The Houston Pellet plant suffered two fire related incidents last week.
In the evening of Saturday, May 14, the Houston Fire Department responded to a fire in one of the pellet plant’s silos. Then around 10 a.m. on Monday, May 16, immense pressure built inside the silo, causing the roof to be blown off.
According to fire Chief Jim Daigneault, when firefighters got there, they found the roof on the ground.
The Houston Fire Department assisted the onsite crews with this subsequent event, and nobody was injured.
Daigneault would not classify this as an “explosion,” saying that there was no fireball created during the incident.
Daigneault said the May 14 fire might have started in the fan and spread into the filtration cyclone and then into the silo.
“It looks like it might have been a fan that was causing some extra friction and caused it,” said Daigneault. “Just a speculation at this point.”
He also said the two events might be linked, elaborating that firefighters could not confirm if all embers were put out after the first fire.
“We thought they were all out, and it’s really hard,” he said. “You can’t tell because you can’t see.”
WorkSafeBC is not conducting any investigations at this point.
The Houston Pellet plant is conducting its own investigation to determine the causes of the fires and has 30 days to report its findings to WorkSafeBC.
“We will monitor that investigation, and if we’re not satisfied with it, we will take other actions,” said Scott McCloy, a spokesperson for WorkSafeBC. “At this point, the mill has told us that they are going to bring any expertise they need to get to the root cause of the event.”
McCloy said the Houston Pellet plant was regularly inspected by WorkSafeBC. Operations at the Houston Pellet plant began in 2006. The pellet plant is managed by Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc., Canfor and the Moricetown Indian Band.
Leroy Reitsma, President and Chief Operation Officer of Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc., said nobody was hurt on Monday, May 16, because all necessary precautions were taken.
“It was one of the risks we had identified to cleaning the area,” said Reitsma. “We had a high-risk area that we were trying to clean out [on Monday, May 16] and we did have a deflagration event during that clean-out procedure.”
He said it’s too early to point out the causes of both fire related events.
“It’s too early to put anything official out there,” said Reitsma. “We have some theories, but we’re conducting an investigation before we say anything.”
This isn’t the first time that Pinnacle Renewable Energy has dealt with fire related incidents.
In October 2014, a fire related incident also occurred at the Pinnacle Pellet plant in the Burns Lake, resulting in minor injuries to two employees and more serious, but not critical injuries to a third employee.
In December 2015, the Burns Lake Pinnacle Pellet plant was ordered to pay an administrative penalty of $55,989.25. According to WorkSafeBC, there were grounds for imposing an administrative penalty because the employer had failed to take sufficient precautions for the prevention of work related injuries or illnesses.
The accumulation of flammable gases was the main cause of the incident in Burns Lake.
When asked if combustible dust could have been a factor in the Houston Pellet fires, McCloy said, “We don’t know, but that’s obviously something that mill management will be looking at.”