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Fire on grounds of Paper Excellence Port Alberni mill extinguished; wind-blown embers caused spot fires

CANADA (From news reports) -- Fire crews from Port Alberni, Cherry Creek, Beaver Creek and Sproat Lake fire departments took hours to put out a fire in the Paper Excellence Catalyst paper mill in Port Alberni on Friday, July 7.

Just before 3 p.m., 911 dispatch informed the Port Alberni Fire Department that a barge carrying hog fuel -- unrefined wood byproduct used in biomass burners and construction -- was on fire.

Port Alberni Deputy Fire Chief Wes Patterson said that the majority of the fire was initially contained to a conveyor belt system used to unload the barge with hog fuel.

"As the wind picked up, as it usually does in the afternoon in the Port Alberni inlet, it started to blow these embers onto the land and started to cause spot fires," Patterson said.

Embers also flew into a building, a wooden structure clad in metal, which then caught fire.

"It took some time for us to be able to extinguish that -- that became our priority so that it wouldn't spread further into the mill system proper," Patterson said. "Once we had that under control, then it was a matter of being able to pull the conveyor system off the barge and fully extinguish it."

In addition to the wind, the hot, dry weather played a factor in exacerbating the situation.

It was not until 7 p.m. that firefighters could start leaving the scene.

No one was injured from the fire, though ambulances were on standby, Patterson said.

"Thankfully, we were able to contain it with the resources we had and extinguished it before it caused further problems," Patterson said.

During the mill fire, fire crews also responded to a brush fire in Port Alberni that was first contained by RCMP and city staff.

Patterson said his understanding was that mill operations will be unaffected by the fire.

The barge was undamaged from the fire, though two excavators on the barge may have suffered limited damage, he said.

Paper Excellence did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

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