No charges from Burns Lake mill explosion

Crown prosecutors have decided not to lay charges in relation to the explosion and fire that destroyed the Babine sawmill

Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake Jan. 20

Crown prosecutors have decided not to lay charges against Babine Forest Products or its employees in relation to the explosion and fire that destroyed the company’s Burns Lake sawmill and killed two workers.

The B.C. government’s criminal justice branch announced Friday that lawyers concluded there is “no substantial likelihood of a conviction for any of the regulatory offences recommended by WorkSafeBC.”

A province-wide program of sawmill dust inspections has been in place since the Babine mill explosion in January 2012 and a similar blast at Lakeland Mills in Prince George three months later.

The case was referred to prosecutors for charge assessment after a WorkSafeBC investigation found that the most likely fuel source for the two explosions was fine, dry dust, which increases when mills cut dry trees killed by beetles. The likely ignition source in both cases was motor and gear assemblies running waste conveyors in low, confined areas of the mills subject to heavy dust accumulation.

Prosecutors found that there was evidence to support charges, but the mill owners have a defence of “due diligence” available to them that would likely prevent a conviction in court.

Criminal justice branch officials began meetings Friday in Burns Lake with the injured workers and the families of the two men who died, to explain the decision.

After negotiating timber supply agreements with the province, Babine’s Oregon-based owner Hampton Affiliates decided to rebuild.

Last fall, West Fraser announced it will close its sawmill in nearby Houston in March. The company traded timber cutting rights with Canfor Corp., which is closing its sawmill in Quesnel as the region adjusts to the loss of timber from the beetle epidemic.


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