POLITICS

B.C. coroner says remains of sawmill workers found on the edge of fire wreckage

01/23/2012 03:46 EST | Updated 03/24/2012 05:12 EDT
BURNS LAKE, B.C. - Amid the blackened and bent steel girders of a burned-out sawmill in Burns Lake, B.C., the remains of two missing workers were found Monday.

While investigators have not been allowed to search what is left of the still-smouldering site, Barbara McLintock, with the BC Coroners Service, said a team of department members and RCMP was able to pinpoint where the two missing workers would likely be.

The first body was found Sunday on the periphery of the scene. The second body was found Monday afternoon.

McLintock said poor weather conditions in the area are making the investigation more difficult.

"It's such a bad scene. Basically they were working under tarps in this twisted little area. But it did work out."

Because of the devastating nature of the fire and explosion that tore through the Babine Forest Products mill Friday night, the coroners service said the remains could not yet be identified.

Relatives have identified the two missing men as Carl Charlie and Robert Luggi. Both are aboriginal and in their 40s and both have children.

RCMP media spokeswoman Const. Lesley Smith said spot fires are still flaring on the site.

More than two dozen workers were on shift when many of them reported a bright flash, a massive explosion and then a fire Friday evening. Some reported having smelled gas beforehand.

Of the 19 people who were rushed to hospital, 11 remain in care at four different hospitals in B.C. and one in Edmonton.

Two of those taken to Vancouver General Hospital are in critical condition. Many of the workers had severe burns, some had broken bones and concussions.

Steve Hunt, Western Canada director for the United Steelworkers union, which represents workers at the mill, said the loss of life, the life-altering injuries and loss of the mill are devastating to community.

"Everybody knows one another," he said. "What does the community do, how do they recover? It's just a terrible set of circumstances."

Hunt said the mill, a joint venture between a consortium of area aboriginal bands and a Portland-based forestry company, has been a success story and has helped people change their lives.

"People are getting hit emotionally that nobody ever is prepared to handle. In this case, there are three, four, probably 10 issues that will affect people that we can't think about right now."

The union will be taking part in the incident investigation that now involves the RCMP, BC Coroners Service, WorksSafeBC, BC Fire Commissioners Office and B.C. Safety Authority.

Hunt said they have no idea what might have caused the blast and resulting fire other than to guess.

"And to guess in a situation like this is really dangerous," he said. "In our experience, nobody that I've talked to has ever seen a mill explode. We just don't know right now."

As for safety and labour relations issues, Hunt said the company had not been a concern in the past.

The union has a whole team of people dispatched to Burns Lake to help the workers and their families cope with so many losses.

- by Terri Theodore in Vancouver