Investigation deems mill fire not suspicious

Tembec now working to secure and clean up site of Thursday night’s blaze

Fire levelled the former Tembec planer mill off Theatre Road Cranbrook late Thursday night, Nov. 1. No deaths or injuries were reported.

Flames broke out in the long-closed mill just before 10 p.m. and a cause has not been determined.

The City of Cranbrook said 18 firefighters responded to the blaze through the night with two fire trucks and the city’s ladder truck.

“Their response is always very quick,” said Chris Zettel, corporate communications officer with the City of Cranbrook. He estimates it took about 10 minutes for the fire department to arrive after getting the call at 9:55 p.m. The crews remained on scene into the morning watching for flair ups and Theatre Road was closed to traffic in the morning.

Zettel told the Townsman the 18 firefighters realized early on that they would not be able to save the building and instead moved on to saving some heavy equipment that had been left on site during the clean-up process.

“If there’s a positive, that would be the positive,” Zettel said.

Work Safe BC arrived on scene later in the morning and wrapped by the investigation later that day. The City of Cranbrook said in a press release that iInvestigators indicate that the cause of the fire is undetermined and deem the fire as not suspicious in nature.

Mayor Wayne Stetski toured the site but Zettel said the rest of the efforts would be left to Tembec, the company that owned the 36-hectare property.

Bystanders at the scene told the Townsman that the fire razed the building that housed the former planer equipment.

Former employee Joe Trozzo said the mill was a great place to work. He was employed there for 38 years before it shut down. Many employees went on to work at Canal Flats, Elko or Galloway.

“It’s kind of disappointing to see it down, but it was coming down anyway,” he said.

While he wasn’t able to pinpoint the exact date the mill opened its doors in Cranbrook, Trozzo believes it was in 1967 and about 85 people were employed there in its heyday.

“It was a good career. For me it was a good 38 years of employment,” he said.

What many employees enjoyed was driving only five minutes to work instead of commuting all the way to Canal Flats or Elko.

Zettel said the building had been out of use for at least a year and it had been unstaffed for several months.

Tembec closed the sawmill at the site in 1998, the planer was shuttered in 2010 and the kilns were permanently shut down in May.

Trozzo said there had been a possibility of former mill employees coming back to help tear down the property, but that employment opportunity is now gone because of the fire.

The company received just over $100,000 from the Ministry of Forests in July to pinpoint and clean up any contamination issues on the southeastern B.C. property, and testing was expected to begin before the end of this year.

Zettel said the company was planning on pulling the building down but were in the process of removing any leftover equipment and metal from the site.

A sale of mill assets, ranging from the drying kilns to office furniture, concluded in late September.

The fire did not involve the kiln or the finger joint plant on the property. No cause for the fire has been determined and there are no damage estimates available at this time.

For Trozzo, it was a sad sight watching the building engulfed in flames, even if it was due to be torn down.

“I was there last night, watching it burn. I’m sorry to see it come down.”

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