No one was hurt after a fire erupted Monday morning, Jan. 4, 2021, in one of the paper machines at Paper Excellence Canada in Port Alberni.
“We had a paper fire on the No. 4 paper machine in the dryer section,” Paper Excellence Canada Alberni division general manager Marc Bodin confirmed. Fire crews from Port Alberni Fire Department, Sproat Lake and Cherry Creek volunteer fire departments as well as BC Ambulance were on scene shortly before 10:30 a.m. and the fire was quickly knocked down.
Firefighters stayed on site until well into the afternoon watching for flare-ups and hot spots. Bodin said no one was hurt in the incident.
“There was a lot of smoke. What happens when you have a fire on a paper machine is there’s very large fans that remove (moisture) in the dryer,” Bodin explained. When a fire happens the fans are immediately shut off to limit oxygen getting to the flames. That creates a lot more smoke and cuts down the flames, he added.
“There was excellent response from both our own crews here at the mill and the local fire departments.”
The fans aren’t turned back on until the fire department gives the all-clear, which didn’t happen until after noon in this particular case.
Bodin said preliminary checks indicate damage was not extensive. “It looks like there was minimal damage to the machine itself.”
The No. 5 machine remains in production.
The same No. 4 paper machine also suffered a fire in the dryer in March 2019 just before Paper Excellence Canada took over ownership of Catalyst Paper.
Bodin said he doesn’t anticipate Monday’s fire affecting the Alberni plant’s overall production. “We’re not expecting any significant down time or loss of production as a result,” he said.
Paper Excellence announced in December that it will invest $13 million upgrading the mill’s two paper machines to increase food grade paper production. Upgrades are due to start later in January and wrap up in late 2021.