Mill fire blackens skies over Nanaimo Harbour

NANAIMO – Fire ignites conveyor belt and wood chip piles in Western Forest Products mill.

Nanaimo Fire Rescue crews hose down wood chip piles and a conveyor system after a fire broke out at the Western Forest Products mill at Duke Point Tuesday.

Nanaimo Fire Rescue crews hose down wood chip piles and a conveyor system after a fire broke out at the Western Forest Products mill at Duke Point Tuesday.

A fire in a conveyor belt Tuesday sent a massive column of black smoke over Nanaimo harbour and set piles of wood chips ablaze at the Western Forest Products mill at Duke Point.

The fire started shortly after 5 p.m. and required several Nanaimo Fire Rescue trucks to bring under control.

“It looks like they had some kind of mechanical malfunction, or something happened, that caught the chips on the conveyor belt on fire. Before anybody caught it, it spread up the conveyor belt and into the hopper and on to the chip pile,” said Wade Smith, assistant fire chief.

Firefighters had difficulty tackling the blaze because of its distance from water hydrants.

Smith said crews had to lay down about 150 metres of hose, relayed through at least two pumper trucks to generate enough water pressure to fight the fire.

A front-end loader was also used to spread the wood chips to break up the fire in the large wood chip piles.

“They had two monitors going,” Wade said. “They were shooting over 1,000 gallons a minute. They needed to juice it up.”

Much of the heavy black smoke came from the 30-metre-long conveyor belt that caught fire.

No one was injured in the mishap.

Smith said the exact cause of the fire is being investigated, but there appears to be nothing suspicious about it.

“It was just perfect conditions too,” Smith said. “Right at the end of that nice, hot dry spell, so everything’s nice and dry and away she goes.”