The Snow Lake Fire Department’s pagers screamed in unison at 4 p.m. on July 5, as thick black smoke billowed from the rear portion of the Outland Camp kitchen. The Outland Camp is located at the northern extreme of the community of Snow Lake; it houses and feeds a good portion of Hudbay’s Snow Lake workforce. It burned to the ground Friday afternoon.
The community’s Fire Chief Cory Anaka advises that his pager went off halfway across Wekusko Lake. Anaka, who was on his way to an afternoon of fishing and relaxation, had to abort his plans, ask that the boat be turned around, and he headed back to the community to fight a fire he could see, even from a vantage point of 10 kilometres away, was sizable. Looking towards the community, Anaka noted a massive black plume rising high above the treetops as they headed back to shore.
Sitting down after the fire was put out, Anaka and Deputy Chief Bernard Fourie stated that three of the department’s 18 personnel were in town when the call went out, and the rest were either working or away from the community. “It was fully involved when we arrived; the total underside of the kitchen was in flames,” said Chief Anaka. “We just tried to protect the other exposures and put the fire out at the same time.”
The fire was contained to the kitchen; however, camp buildings are close to one another and Anaka says that had the wind been coming from a different direction, some of the dormitories might have also become involved. “We watered down the other buildings to prevent further spread,” said Fourie. “That’s what happens, radiated heat from the fire on the metal siding heats the inside of nearby buildings very quickly; when the temperature gets high enough, there is ignition, so we blanketed those buildings to keep them cooled down.” Anaka said that there was smoke damage to some trailers, some melted doors and windows broken by the heat. “I suspect that they’ll have to get professionals in to clean the dorms of smoke damage before anyone can move back in, but they are already building a temporary camp down the road here (about 500 metres from the fire hall),” said the chief.
The fire department fought the fire for seven hours; it was 11 p.m. when they were finally able to turn their hoses off. Both men noted that they experienced problems with town water pressure and resorted to having area contractors with pumper trucks and people with tanks hauling lake water to fill a bladder and run through the pressure system on their truck. This made for a more time-consuming cleanup of fire equipment and vehicles, as those hauling water had no control over what they sucked up out of the lake.
Anaka said it isn’t official, but he suspects the fire started by someone putting out a cigarette without disposing of it properly. “There is a container on the backside where they put all their cardboard boxes… and the first person to see the fire said that it was the cardboard boxes on fire,” said the chief. There was no loss of life and no one was hurt seriously during the event.
Scott Brubacher, corporate communications director for Hudbay was contacted for comments from the company on the fire and subsequent damages. He confirmed the loss of the kitchen and that damage to surrounding dormitories was minor and repairable. He sees these repairs happening immediately. “We expect to get everything back to pre-fire state in a week or two,” said Brubacher. “We will bring in temporary provisional accommodations, so if anyone is without a place, they won’t be for long, and I’ll be very clear, that we don’t expect the fire to have any material impact on production overall.” He admitted that things have been somewhat disrupted, but there has been nothing that couldn’t be addressed and that they were adapting.
He added that local officials had opened the community hall in Snow Lake and allowed their contractor to prepare and serve three meals a day from the building and its kitchen. The school has also allowed them use of freezers and fridges. “In terms of accommodation, I know that we have people billeted in the community; some of the lodges have been able to provide some space, and some workers who have their own space in Snow Lake have been doubling up,” he said. “The company is so grateful to the community. The response was instant, helpful, really creative, and so kind … we’re enormously grateful.”
It seems that the company isn’t alone in their appreciation. Thirty-nine-year old Ryan Denhard, who is from Pilot Mound and is a remote scoop operator at Hudbay’s Lalor Mine, stated that everyone he knows in Snow Lake was quick to offer up a place to stay for him and others he works with. “Everyone has made us feel very welcome, which is nice, because I know there’s animosity towards the camp from some of the residents,” he said.
A United Steelworkers Local 7106 worker update on July 7 advised union membership that Hudbay had started to call employees to make arrangements for accommodations and starting work. They said that some dorms did not suffer any damage from the fire and are being cleaned, and that once power and water is restored to them they will be ready to go. “This will provide 80 rooms that could be ready as early as Wednesday,” the circular noted. The tentative date for opening the temporary kitchen and 132-room camp, located on a piece of land just up from the current camp, is July 15.