BURNS LAKE, B.C. - Freezing temperatures wrecked equipment at a sawmill that hadn't been prepared for such weather before an explosion killed two workers, a coroner's inquest has heard.
Archie Alec, who worked as a chipper attendant, testified Friday that a cold snap made it tough to operate machinery at Babine Forest Products in the days before a blast on Jan. 20, 2012.
Robert Luggi, 45, and 42-year-old Carl Charlie, died in the disaster that also left 19 others injured, some with severe burns.
Alec worked in the mill's basement, where he was primarily responsible for unplugging conveyors when they became clogged with debris.
"Being downstairs was chaotic," he said. "Conveyors were freezing up ... all week we had problems with everything starting up. By the time we'd get things going, another machine breaks down.
"Maintenance was overwhelmed with calls — here, there, throughout the mill."
He said employees were called into the lunchroom for a meeting the day before the explosion.
"To us, we thought we would be sent home, but we weren't," Alec said.
Instead, everyone in the mill was sent to clean out the debris that had piled up in the basement. They had to use jackhammers to dislodge the material because it had become frozen in water that had been leaking from burst pipes.
That seemed to work, and the sawmill was back in operation by the time Alec returned for work the next morning.
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