WorkSafeBC Investigative Lead to Continue Testimony
Prince George, B.C. – Paul Orr was WorkSafe BC’s lead investigator in the Lakeland Mills explosion and fire. An experienced blast expert with 22 years of explosion study under his belt with the Canadian Armed Forces, Orr led the Coroner’s Inquest jury through a methodical description of how his team looked for the ignition source of that blast.Orr presented a number of photos which detailed the wrecked mill, through aerial shots, and diagrams, he explained how damage from the blast could be back tracked to one spot, a location on the lower level, near the 6P conveyor in the north east corner of the mill.
Image after image showed evidence of steel beams bent outwards from the pressure, saw blades that had been blown up into the air then coming to rest looped over beams. Another photo showed how the top of a welding unit had been peeled back like the lid on a can of sardines.
Overhead, evidence the booth for the large head rig had been shifted.
The blast was powerful enough to send an 18 foot wide sliding barn door and the steel rail on which it hung, flying. The pieces landed about 250 metres away.
Orr made it clear in his testimony, there were some who had survived the blast who, had they been at their normal work stations at the time of the explosion would not have been so fortunate.
“There are thousands of possible ignition sources in a mill” said Orr, and one by one, they were ruled out. That included the Power Distribution Centre, as there was no sign of electrical arcing or fire damage inside the units. He says the blast damage pattern led back to one area, and within that area, there was one suspect, the cooling fan on the gear reducer of the 6p conveyor motor.
A cooling fan’s blade broke free and slid along the gear shaft. It bcame embedded in a screen where it ground to a halt, althouth the gear shaft kept rotating at 1750 rpm. The continual rotation of the gear shaft caused fictional heat, reaching a temperature of approximately 577 degrees. They know that was the temperature reached because that’s the temperature at which the aluminum fan would start to melt, and there were definite signs it had started to melt.
Earlier testimony at the Coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Alan Little and Glenn Roche indicated workers would be alerted to sounds of equipment that wasn’t working properly or that they could smell the start of a fire. But Orr testified the sound of a failed cooling fan might well have been drowned out by the chipper or other equipment that was operating at the time, and it would only have taken about 2 minutes for the friction to create that high heat.
The inquest continues