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The Lakeland Sawmill is shown through the fog in Prince George, B.C., Tuesday, April 24, 2012.

Andrew Johnson/The Canadian Press

A coroner's inquest into an explosion at a sawmill in Prince George, B.C., has begun with testimony from the wives of the two men who were killed in a blaze.

Joanna Burrows described Alan Little as an intelligent man who liked to read and write poetry and was a good listener.

"I had an assumption of what a mill worker would be like and I was surprised at the complexity of his personality," Burrows said Monday at the inquest looking into the April 2012 disaster that also injured 22 men.

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She said that about a year before the fire, her husband had become increasingly stressed as management put more emphasis on productivity and her husband suffered chest pains and was grinding his teeth.

Burrows said she also noticed sawdust in his hair when he came home. "It looked like he had snowdrifts in his hair," Burrows said.

She said her husband and his co-workers became increasingly concerned after an explosion at Babine Forest Products near Burns Lake three months earlier, when two men were killed. There had already been a fire at Lakeland the day before the Babine incident.

Burrows said she encouraged Little to see a counsellor about stress management.

"It never crossed my mind to think it was actually as bad as he said."

Ronda Roche described her husband, Glenn Roche, as intelligent and meticulous, a man who had high standards and constantly strived to beat production levels with each passing day.

But, like Little, he became concerned following the fire at Lakeland and the explosion at Babine the next day, saying the Lakeland fire was not just a regular blaze but that "the air in front of him was on fire."

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Roche said her husband feared that an explosion like Babine's would erupt at Lakeland and that he might be among those killed.

"I wished he was wrong," she said.

Roche said her husband raised his concerns with supervisors whenever they came by his work station to talk to him.

The inquest before a jury of seven men is expected to hear from 47 witnesses over four weeks.

A coroner's inquest can result in recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future but it does not lay blame or find fault.

Prince George Citizen

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