Update: Constable Lesley Smith from Prince George RCMP said that while she can’t confirm if there has been any fatalities in the Babine Forest Products explosion and fire, she said there is still a number of people that are unaccounted for at the mill. This is contrary to fire chief Jim McBride’s comments made to Global TV earlier this morning.
“RCMP and the Burns Lake Fire and Rescue Department are still on the scene. Given the nature and scale of the event, emergency resources from the neighbouring communities of Fraser Lake, Houston and Vanderhoof attended the incident.
Constable Smith said that Work Safe B.C. and Northern Health are taking over the investigation.
“The fire has now been contained and the cause of the fire is still under investigation,” Cst. Smith said, adding that although contained, it is still burning.
“The area has been secured. The Office of the Fire Commissioner and Work Safe B.C. are on site and are working with emergency crews, who are also battling blizzard type conditions.”
She said she could confirm that there was 30 workers on shift at the mill when the explosion occurred and that the majority of them have been injured, with a number of them still unaccounted for. “The mill employs about 250 personnel and approximately 30 were on shift at the time of the incident. When emergency crews arrived efforts began immediately to fight the fire, evacuate the workers and transport the injured to hospital for treatment.”
Northern Heath say a ‘code orange’ [mass causality accident] was called at 10:52 p.m. last night, which extended from Prince George to Smithers.
Steve Raper, with Northern Health communications said that there is no confirmed fatalites at this point.
He explained a code orange further, “It’s a protocol and process we put into place when we may expect mass casualties, something like a mill explosion for example, in which case it requires us to mobilize all of our physicians, staff, support services, supply services, in the affected areas,” said Raper.
With a code orange, he said it’s ‘all hands on deck’ to address potential situations that may come up. “It triggers all kinds of service protocols to ensure we’re capable to responding to any potential issue.”
The Code Orange will bring all necessary health services in an area to a full complement of staff to handle a spike in patients.
Northern Health mobilized physicians, staff and supplies through the Hwy. 16 corridor up to and including the University Hospital of Northern B.C. and Smithers.
Nineteen patients have been treated with injuries that range from minor to critical including some with severe burns.
According to Northern Health, four patients have been airlifted from Prince George, two to Edmonton and two to Vancouver General Hospital. Eight patients have been transferred to the University Hospital of Northern B.C., one of those patients will be transferred to a Vancouver hospital, but is currently in stable condition.
Two patients remain in the Bulkley Valley Hospital in Smithers, one remains in St. John Hospital in Vanderhoof.
The remaining patients have been discharged and the code orange has been downgraded.
RCMP are asking the public to avoid the area as road conditions are extremely dangerous and current efforts are focused on the fire.
“This is a tragic loss for the community not only because individuals have been injured but it was a key employer for the area”, said St. Sgt. Grant MacDonald from the Burns Lake RCMP detachment. “The response from the community and assistance from neighbouring RCMP detachments, fire halls and health services has been vital.”
Fire chief Jim McBride from the Burns Lake Fire and Rescue Department advised emergency responders to use caution when traveling to the mill, due to extreme weather conditions.
Reportedly, multiple ambulances arrived at the mill to transport injured workers to the Lakes District Hospital.
There has been unconfirmed reports that several people have been severely burnt and a number of people are unaccounted for.
Prince George RCMP confirmed to Lakes District News that there has been an incident at the mill and that police, fire and ambulance attended.
B.C. Hydro was called to the mill to restore power and Pacific Northern Gas arrived on the scene.
Unconfirmed reports have also come in that the mill was completely engulfed in flames and the fire department asked for outlying fire departments to assist in putting out the blaze.
Lakes District News was on the scene at the Lakes District Hospital as ambulances were arriving with injured workers. An employee of Babine Forest Products said she was working with a crew of 25 people, when she noticed a strong gas smell. “All of a sudden there was a big explosion. It was so loud. About half the crew was seriously injured. I was one of the lucky ones as I was working down the other end of the mill. There is a huge fire at the mill … I don’t know if everyone is okay or even where half the crew is. I am told everyone is being brought to the Lakes District Hospital so that everyone can be accounted for.”
Reports are coming in that the Lakes District Hospital is at capacity.
Another Babine Forest Products employee said to Lakes District News that he also smelled gas and said the explosion was so loud that he is having trouble hearing anything.
A crowd of concerned locals and family members gathered outside the hospital hoping to hear news. Burns Lake RCMP blocked off Centre Street, near the hospital, to allow emergency vehicles easy access.
Fraser Lake RCMP also reportedly attended and were on hand at the Lakes District Hospital.
There has now been unconfirmed reports of further fires breaking out at the mill and RCMP have all entrances to the mill blocked off.