High Prairie, AB (From news reports) -- Tolko Industries says damage and repairs are still being investigated after a fire May 20 at the plant west of High Prairie.
"It's a difficult situation for Tolko's employees and the community," said Fred Chin, Tolko's vice president, Strand Board Business, on the company's website May 27.
"Work has started on how we can minimize the impact of lost time on people and their families," he adds. "We want to assure everyone that we will soon put a recovery plan in place that will also us to get the High Prairie plant back up and operational."
Alberta Occupational Health and Safety has approved a phased approach to accessing the site following the fire. Tradespeople were allowed on site to start restoring power to areas that are unrestricted, and on May 30, operations teams started clean-up in restricted areas.
The company update stated it is expected it will take several weeks to determine the detailed repair plans and the timing for a restart.
"During the downtime, the mill will be shipping out its existing products and Tolko will redirect incoming logs from High Prairie to its Athabasca division near Slave Lake," the update read.
High Prairie fire chief Trevor Cisaroski posted on social media last week that the department responded to the fire at Tolko at 5:14 a.m.
"Units were on route within minutes to the Tolko mill," he wrote.
"A large black plume was visible from town and command requested additional resources," he added.
Answering the call were Slave Regional Fire, Smoky River Regional Fire, and fire departments from Enilda, Faust, Grouard and Joussard.
"Cooperation between all resources and all other agencies resulted in a successful, safe control of the fire," wrote Cisaroski.
"No persons were injured with the fire operation and safety was paramount for all. Strategic plans were established and executed to a successful end at about [noon]."
Local news attempted to contact Tolko several times without for more specific details including the cause of the fire.
Town of High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk gave a report on the fire at council's meeting May 24 and disclosed the cause of the fire.
"Apparently, it was a high pressure line that blew out onto the press," he said.
"It was hot and it started the fire."
Panasiuk added company officials were to meet with staff May 27 at the High Prairie Gold Course to update them on the plant, which they did. Council was invited to send 1-2 people.
As Tolko indicated in their news release, Panasiuk could not offer specifics.
"The bad news is there's quite a bit of damage. It's a specialized press," he said, adding Tolko will see if they can fix the press.
"They don't know what will happen at this point."
He added the good news is no one was seriously hurt.
Councillor Judy Stenhouse asked how many people were employed at the plant; Councillor James Waikle replied 174.