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Lakeland Mills sawmill explosion and fire rocks Prince George, one dead

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Late last night, residents as far as twenty-five blocks away felt an explosion rip through the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, on River Road.

Daybreak reporter Wil Fundal spoke with Carolina De Ryk this morning to explain what happened.

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Emergency crews rushed to the scene after the explosion engulfed the mill at about 9:45 p.m. PT, shaking nearby homes and businesses. Flames at the sawmill, located about one kilometre outside the city, were reported to have shot more than 60 metres in the air at one point, according to witnesses.

Daybreak's Robert Doane and Wil Fundal were on the scene shortly after the fire happened. They spoke to eyewitnesses last night.

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Brian Croy is the vice-president of the United Steelworker's Union. He was sitting in the lunchroom when the explosion happened. Here's what he saw.

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Roberto Sciera's father was in the mill when the explosion hit. He found out via Facebook.

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(Andrew Johnson/Canadian Press)

The fire that followed has now been controlled but there are still hotspots and the fire isn't expected to be fully extinguished for another 24 to 48 hours, officials said Tuesday.

"There's nothing left standing as far as a recognizable physical structure. It was literally just a ball of flame," said Cameron Stolz, a Prince George city councillor.

All 50 workers who were on the job Monday night have been accounted for, officials said.

Twenty-five people with varying injuries were treated at University Hospital of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, a Northern Health representative said.

A Code Orange was called for the hospital. Daybreak's Robert Doane spoke to Northern Health's Steve Raper. 

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Northern Health and the RCMP have confirmed that one person has died as a result of injuries in hospital.

A total of 17 others remained in hospital on Tuesday morning, including four who had been transferred by air ambulance to other facilities -- three to Vancouver and one to Edmonton.

"There were certainly some patients with some very severe burns, and we had to evacuate those to the waiting ambulances some distance away," fire Chief John Lane told CBC's Nancy Wilson.

The fire chief said the sawmill, the log processing facility and the sorting facility were all destroyed, but the planer facility and an energy plant were intact.

The cause of the explosion and fire was not yet known.

Fire continues to burn, crews have it contained

Flames continued to burn at the Lakeland Mils sawmill this morning, but crews say they had it contained. CBC's Andrew Glass visited the site.

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John Lane is fire chief for Prince George. He explains how crews are dealing with the fire.

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Flames 'lit up the entire downtown'

Stolz told CBC News that he rushed to the scene after the explosion shook the house he was in.

"The flames literally lit up the entire downtown; they must have been visible for kilometres," he said.

The "cataclysmic" fire had many local families in shock, Stolz said.

"Families are there, and they're just thankful and giving up their prayers that no one was killed in the fire," he said.

Stolz said emergency services called in all the fire halls and extra staff, and extra workers rushed in to help at the local hospital.

Economic hit unknown

Prince George Mayor Shari Green was in Victoria when the explosion hit. She says it is too early to even think about the economic hit the city will take as a result of this disaster.

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Severe burns 'quite gruesome'

Colleagues at the Lakeland Sawmill scrambled to help each other immediately after the blast, with one saying he used scissors to cut charred clothing off those with severely burned skin.

"It was quite gruesome," said Brian Croy, first vice-president of the United Steelworkers Local 1-424, in an interview with the The Canadian Press from his home.

"When you walk out, there was guys with their skin hanging off their arms and stuff from being burned."

Croy said he was among six people in the mill's lunchroom talking about training when the explosion happened.

"That thing came up so fast, so quick. I don't know where it came from, but it was almost like a cannon going off. It blew through there. It ended just that quick," he said.

It's the second devastating explosion in B.C. in recent months. In January, an explosion tore through a mill near Burns Lake, killing two and destroying the mill.

Burns Lake mayor Luke Strimbold offered his condolences to Prince George this morning.

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"We've had the unfortunate experience of going through this on two occasions in the last few months, and we're certainly hoping not to have to go through it again," said Northern Health's Steve Raper.

There was one confirmed death as a result of the fire and explosion at around 8:30 this morning.

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With files from The Canadian Press and CBCnews.ca.

Daybreak's Andrew Kurjata compiled a number of Tweets and photos as people reacted to the fire and explosion last night and into the morning.

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