Fire then explosion shuts down Houston pellet plant

Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc.'s Houston pellet plant was the scene of an explosion Monday as crews were dealing with an offshoot of a fire that broke out in the operation over the weekend.

Pinnacle chief operating officer Leroy Reitsma said a fire broke out on Saturday night in one of the systems used to make the pellets. That fire was extinguished but a smolder had blown into an adjacent silo, posing the possibility for a "deflagration" - an explosion that travels slower than the speed of sound - as a crew worked to removed fibre from that section.

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"We planned for that as a worst-case outcome with where we positioned people and where we managed the situation and unfortunately, yesterday while we were doing that, we did have a deflagration that took the roof off that silo," Reitsma said.

"But thanks to good planning no one was hurt and we were able to extinguish the fire inside of it.

"It was not part of the original incident but something that had occurred sort of as a fall down effect of it."

The plant had been shut down as a result of the Saturday fire when the explosion occurred. Reitsma said a third party has since been brought in to help determine the cause and find ways to prevent similar trouble in the future.

He said there have been "process fires" at the plant in the past, "but the system is designed to recognized and address them." In contrast, the explosion on Monday was "quite a unique thing."

The roughly 25 employees on the site, will remain on the job during the shutdown.

WorkSafeBC spokesman Scott McCloy said the agency had an officer on the scene on Tuesday but no decisions have yet been made on whether any compliance orders or other regulatory actions will be pursued.

"At this time, we are not contemplating an investigation but that could change depending on what the officer finds," McCloy said.

The incident occurred a bit less than a week after a May 10 fire at the Canfor sawmill in the community of 3,120 people 307 kilometres west of Prince George. No one was hurt in that fire either.

Canfor spokeswoman Corinne Stavness said declined to speculate on the cause other than to say the fire damaged the plant's older wood-drying kilns as well as the steam supply lines to the newer kilns.
The planer remained down on Tuesday as repairs continued but should resume operating next week, while the sawmill remained up and running, Stavness said.
McCloy said Canfor is conducting its own investigation and WorkSafeBC is is monitoring that effort. "So, we are not initiating an investigation of our own in that area but we are certainly paying close attention to what the status of the investigation by the employer is," he said.

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