Investigators are looking into the cause of a large fire that engulfed a Maple Ridge cedar mill early Sunday, casting an orange glow over the industrial area of Ruskin until sunrise and leaving dozens of workers without jobs as high season approaches.
Reports of the fire, at the Waldun Forest Product cedar mill in the 28700-block of Lougheed Highway, first came in at around 12:15 a.m. on Sunday, said Maple Ridge assistant fire chief Mark Smitton.
"The log deck area where the shake and shingle machines are is pretty much destroyed," he said. "They're going to have to rebuild probably 85 per cent of the mill. A lot of the conveyors and hoppers are still there, but the main production area is a loss."
The only person working at the mill at the time was a security guard, who was not injured in the blaze.
Saturdays are typically maintenance days at mills and workers were on site doing maintenance and welding in a few areas the day before the fire, Mr. Smitton confirmed.
However, he said the workers did have a proper fire watch in place, which means the area was soaked down after all hot works and the site was monitored for four hours afterward.
Mill owner Kirk Nagy said the fire comes as particularly devastating news to a close-knit company that has grown to become like family over the years.
"It's my 28th year there and it becomes your home away from home," said Mr. Nagy, who sounded emotional after a night of not sleeping. "We have a close relationship with most of our employees and it was hard to talk to some of them, because then you get the sentimental and emotional side taking over.
"A lot of them have been there for over 30 years. Most of the crew we have now are 20 years plus."
Between 50 and 60 people are employed at the mill, Mr. Nagy said. Their jobs, for the foreseeable future, are uncertain.
"Some we may be able to use when it comes time to do clean-up and rebuilding," he said. "Hopefully we're talking earlier rather than later, but it's not going to be in September, I'm sure of that."
Mr. Nagy said he hopes to have at least a few machines running soon, as the fall is usually one of the company's busiest times.
By noon on Sunday, Mr. Smitton had completed an initial survey of the burn area and was continuing to gather witness information.
"It's not considered to be arson at this time, but we haven't ruled that out," he said.
There was no damage to property surrounding the mill, which is located between the CP Rail tracks and the Fraser River.
Last August, a fire destroyed two buildings at nearby Watkins Sawmill.