An early morning blaze destroyed the production shop of a Ruskin mill overnight, putting upwards of 100 people out of work.
It took Maple Ridge firefighters, with the assistance of three water tankers from Mission fire department, the better part of eight hours to extinguish a fire and subsequent hot spots at Waldun’s shake and shingle mill.
The call came in just after midnight on Sunday morning.
When emergency crews arrived, the fire was “fully involved from one end to the other,” said Mark Smitton, the assistant fire chief for Maple Ridge. He noted several of the owners and management team were there, when he arrived.
Power lines had fallen and were arching, prohibiting firefighters from moving in and immediately fighting the building fire, But while they waited for hydro to arrive and cut power to the building, they surrounded the site and fought to contain the blaze from spreading to multiple other buildings, Smitton explained Sunday morning.
No one was hurt in the blaze, and only one staff person – a night watchman – was on site when the fire started.
He called 9-1-1 at about 12:15 a.m., but Smitton noted that fire dispatch fielded a large volume of calls – many from the south side of the river in Abbotsford – with reports of flames reaching 100 feet into the air.
There are no fire hydrants near the mill site, which is just south of Lougheed Highway at 287th Street, tucked between the railway tracks and the Fraser River at the border of Maple Ridge and Mission.
So in addition to using water from the Mission tankers, Smitton said fire crews pumped water out of the Fraser River for about four hours.
The majority of the fire was knocked down by 5 a.m., Smitton said, noting the skeleton of the steel beam and tin roof building are pretty much all that remains now.
He also noted that the firefighting was complicated further by the spread of flames into a woodchip pile to the west.
But excavation equipment from the mill was used to move some most of the chip pile clear of danger. It did take until about 9 a.m. for Maple Ridge firefighters to finish the mop up.
A total of seven fire trucks and more than 20 firefighters from Maple Ridge, plus several crew members from Mission were involved in quashing the overnight blaze.
And while firefighters left the scene at that point, Smitton said a team of four or five mill workers – trained in firefighting – are expected to stay on site for the next 24 hours to keep spraying down the site and watching for potential flare ups.
Smitton confirmed that a maintenance crew had been working at the mill earlier in the day, welding in the large open structure that houses 16 pieces of milling equipment.
But following the scheduled work that afternoon, there was a fire watch for the next four hours.
Therefore, he said, it’s unclear if it was ignited as a result of that afternoon’s work, or something else. The investigation will continue.
“The fire isn’t considered suspicious at this time,” he said.
Waldun’s has been operating in Ruskin for almost 40 years. It started in 1974, when Wynn Walker build a mill along the Fraser. According to the company website, little did he know that this would be the beginning of a union of three mills – in what is today known as the Waldun Group, with this operation being one of the largest mills in the shake and shingle industry.
There was another mill fire nearby at the Watkins Sawmill almost a year ago to the day. That blaze destroyed a groover plant and logging mill across the street from Waldun’s.
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