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Community gathers on first anniversary of sawmill explosion

April 24, 2013, Prince George, B.C. – The days and nights have skidded together in the year since a fiery blast ripped through a Prince George, B.C., sawmill, but for survivors, reminders of the deadly explosion remain fresh and raw. 

April 24, 2013
By The Canadian Press

April 24, 2013, Prince George, B.C. – The days and nights have skidded
together in the year since a fiery blast ripped through a Prince George,
B.C., sawmill, but for survivors, reminders of the deadly explosion
remain fresh and raw.

Neil Ginter wasn't working on shift that night, but once he got that
phone call his coworkers were in trouble, he was there. As a sawfiler,
Lakeland Mills was a part of his life and in the wake of an unimaginable
tragedy it touched a part of everyone in his hometown.

The community gathered Tuesday night at the Civic Centre to remember
Glenn Roche and Alan Little, the two Lakeland workers who died of their
injuries as a result of the explosion and fire that destroyed the
sawmill and shattered the lives of many others.

"All of us, including the owners of Lakeland Mills, lost something that evening," said Ginter.

"The employees who were there that night deserve special recognition.
They went out of their way to help their co-workers and friends to get
out of the mill, and courageously risked their lives in doing so. They
showed true leadership and bravery in such a frightening and uncertain
time."

Tuesday was the first large gathering for Lakeland employees since the
funerals of Roche and Little, and 400 people gathered to hear how the
struggles continue for many of the workers and their families. Some are
still without jobs, having difficulty making ends meet. Some continue to
seek counselling.

Ginter thanked the firefighters, ambulance paramedics and police for
their roles in risking their own lives to bring workers to safety. He
thanked the physicians, nurses, and counsellors who stayed long after
their shifts ended at the University Hospital of Northern B.C., or were
called in that night.

He remembered the professionalism of hospital cafeteria staff, who cared
for the families as they waited for word about the condition of the
workers. And he thanked the people who opened their wallets and put on
fundraisers to provide the $400,000 lifeline offered to Lakeland
employees who lost their livelihoods to the fire.

Little's wife, Jo Burrows, who has relocated to Vancouver Island since
the fire, and Ronda Roche, widow of Glenn Roche, sat in the front row
with their families.

"We cannot turn back the clock, what happened has happened," said Roche,
in her speech. "Bad things occur, either through an act of God or an
act of nature, and this tragedy was neither.

"My thoughts are with all who were present that night and their
families, who endured life at its worst. I know, for all of us, that
life will never be the same."

Greg Stewart, president of Sinclar Group, the mill owner, spoke about
how the disaster bound the city in grief and how difficult it is to
commemorate the event, one year after it happened.

"My greatest grief comes from knowing the pain this tragedy has caused
the families of Al and Glenn," said Stewart. "Words will never be
enough. But I want to say from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry for
your loss.

"The workers on shift that night have endured more loss, more emotional
upheaval in the past year than most do in a lifetime. You suffered
personal injury, the loss of co-workers, the loss of your job, and some
of the certainty of purpose you once had. And your families have
suffered with you. For this, I am truly sorry.

"I wish we had answers for what happened that night, but the fact is we don't know, and may never know for sure."

Mayor Shari Green fought back tears as she described how helpless she
felt when she learned of the Lakeland fire while in Halifax attending a
conference.

She talked about a phone call she made three months earlier, the night
of the Burns Lake sawmill explosion and fire, to Luke Strimbold, then
the 21-year-old, newly-minted mayor of Burns Lake.

"I said Prince George would do what it could to help, not really knowing
what that meant," said Green. "Luke was the first person to call me on
my cell the night of the Lakeland fire and he said, 'We'll do what we
can for you.'"

Master of ceremonies Susan Scott was called into service at the hospital
on the night of the fire as a spiritual counsellor when both hospital
chaplains were unavailable.

Scott implored the workers to not keep their thoughts bottled inside and to seek help.

"Please remember that 'get over it' applies to losing at cards, a
bruised ego or scraped knees – not to what was experienced a year ago,"
said Scott. "If you come here tonight feeling overwhelmed, please talk
to someone. And please remember, tears are good and useful things."