British Columbia

Fire at Port Alberni mill under construction another setback for vulnerable forestry industry

A fire has destroyed part of a new mill that was under construction in Port Alberni.

Fire destroyed part of a new mill that was under construction in Port Alberni Wednesday

The fire at the San Group's remanufacturing plant means its opening, scheduled for a few weeks from now, will be delayed. (Port Alberni Fire Department)

A fire has destroyed part of a new mill that was under construction in Port Alberni, B.C., in another blow to Vancouver Island's forestry industry.

Firefighters from the Port Alberni Fire Department, as well as volunteers members from the Cherry Creek, Sproat Lake and Beaver Creek fire departments arrived on scene at 2 a.m. Wednesday.

Fire Chief Mike Owens said it was a large fire, but crews were able to quickly get it under control. 

The Office of the Fire Commissioner is investigating its cause.

The San Group's remanufacturing plant, located on Stamp Avenue, was weeks away from going into operation, but fire damage to the mill means that start will be delayed.

Kamal Sanghera, the CEO of San Group, said 75 per cent of the plant is operational and his team is working to find replacement machinery for the damaged equipment.

"We're going to make it operational as soon as possible, as soon as humanly possible," Sanghera told host Kathryn Marlow on CBC's All Points West

The province's forestry industry has had a tumultuous past year. There were several mill closures and curtailments, a months-long strike on Vancouver Island, as well as declining market demand. 

On Thursday, the provincial government announced it was deferring a timber-harvesting fee charged to forest companies in an effort to help the struggling industry survive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The opening of the new manufacturing mill had been cause for hope, with the promise of jobs for 100 workers. 

"Nobody is going to get laid off or anything [because of the fire]," Sanghera said.

"What we're going to do is, myself, our whole team ... we're going to make sure we come back stronger ... A lot of families depend on us."

With files from All Points West, CHEK News

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