British Columbia

Province to find jobs for Burns Lake mill workers

B.C.'s Minister of Jobs is in Burns Lake to meet with community leaders about the village's economic future. He says officials are tracking down short term jobs for locals at nearby mills and mines.

A rapid response team led by B.C. jobs minister Pat Bell is in Burns Lake, B.C., Friday to meet with community leaders about the village's economic future and to help find work for residents suddenly made jobless.

The Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake, B.C., one week after an explosion and fire killed 2 workers, and injured 19 others. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC)

Burns Lake's main employer, the Babine Forest Products sawmill, was destroyed Jan. 20 in an explosion and fire, killing two men, injuring 19 others and leaving hundreds of local people without work.

Bell said officials are tracking down short term jobs at mills and mines in neighbouring communities, and examining transportation options to help people commute to work from Burns Lake.

Employees collected their final paycheque on Thursday and many have filed for Employment Insurance.

Bell says he's drawing on his experience of helping people in Mackenzie, B.C., after mills in that community were shut down.

"The goal is to allow them to continue to live in Burns Lake while we work through the timber supply analysis, and if Hampton decides to rebuild the mill, keep them employed until the mill reopens.

"We want stability for the community. It worked well in Mackenzie, people retained their residences in Mackenzie. Hopefully we can do the same thing in Burns Lake," said Bell.

It's still not clear if, or when, the mill will be rebuilt.

Its owners want assurances they'll have enough timber to feed a new mill, which could be a problem as 90 per cent of the forests around Burns Lake have been decimated by the mountain pine beetle, says BC's chief forester Jim Snetsinger.

Bell admits it will take a "number of weeks" to determine if there's enough timber to justify rebuilding the mill. 

With files from the CBC's Betsy Trumpener