Lakeland Survivor Questions Cause of Blast
Prince George, B.C.- You cannot convince Donald Zwozdesky that friction from a gear reducer sparked the Lakeland Mill explosion and fire.
An electrician on shift that fateful night in April 2012, he has testified at the Coroner’s Inquest into the deaths of Glenn Roche and Alan Little that experienced mill workers learn to recognize certain odours. He compared it being “kind of a dog”, that you could recognize the smell of an oil leak, smouldering fire, mechanical heat, and his nose didn’t give him any warning of an issue. “When there was a fire, you didn’t go to the spot to help out because you were asked, you went because you smelled it.” He said there were no telltale sounds of mechanical problems, no clinging, no vibration.
The WorkSafeBC investigation concluded the cause of the explosion was a problem in the gear reducer, that a cooling fan had worked itself loose, travelled along the shaft until it reached the end where it ground into a steel screen, all the while the shaft kept rotating, causing frictional heat, igniting the airborne wood dust.
Zwozdesky says when he heard the first explosion, his first thought was that a Motor Control Centre (MCC) panel had exploded. He knew the panels often had a layer of fine sawdust in them, and an electrical arc could have easily provided the spark.
He didn’t have time to think too long about the problem, because there was soon a second explosion, which would send him flying. He would survive the events of that night, but would be left with an injury that has left his memory foggy .
He was asked if, at the end of a shift, did he ever feel there was something he should have done before leaving. Zwozdesky replied “I thank God I lived”.
Wayne Cleghorn is also a survivor. A 30 year employee, he was a slasher operator the night of the blast. He was in the washroom in the basement when the first explosion happened “ It sounded like someone had thrown gasoline on a fire, I heard a loud whoof, and then I felt the shockwave.” He left the washroom only to find he was in complete darkness “I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face” walked into a beam, then stumbled and fell a few times, before finding his way outside through a gap where a wall used to stand.
He told how he had gotten into the back of a suburban vehicle, where there was a burn victim on a backboard. A paramedic asked him to help put the oxygen mask on the unrecognizable injured man, who he would learn was Glenn Roche. When they got to the hospital, Glenn turned to Cleghorn and said, “Wayne, I’m dying here, I’m dying”.
Cleghorn says the conditions in the mill are different now. The new facility has a dust collection system that will trigger the entire mill to shut down if that dust collection system is not working properly. Simply put, if the baghouse isn’t operating, the mill cannot operate.
He suggested the jury consider a recommendation that sawmills have more clean up people, and that if workers spot any issue, that it not be ignored.