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Community gathers to mark second anniversary of mill blast that killed 2 workers

Smoke rises from the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake, B.C. Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

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Smoke rises from the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake, B.C. Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

BURNS LAKE, B.C. - More than 100 people have gathered in Burns Lake, B.C., to mark the second anniversary of the sawmill explosion and fire that killed two workers.

Forty-two-year-old Carl Charlie and 45-year-old Robert Luggi died in the inferno that injured 20 others and destroyed the Babine Forest Products mill.

Charlie's sister, Lucy Campbell, was among the mourners at the Wet'suwet'en Community Hall Monday.

She isn't so sure about the decision to rebuild the mill.

"I have mixed feelings about it," Campbell said. "If it's going to employ a few more workers in our community ... because that's what families rely on here. I just hope it's a safe environment."

"It takes a lot to forgive. We haven't forgotten and we hope that the other companies take this into consideration when they send out their workers."

Victims' families are still reeling from the recent announcement by the Criminal Justice Branch that no charges will be laid in the January 2012 incident.

The Crown has said the WorkSafeBC investigation left significant evidence inadmissible in court because search warrants were not obtained and witnesses were not warned of their charter rights before giving statements.

A WorkSafeBC report released last week concluded the explosion was preventable and four charges were recommended, though the Criminal Justice Branch said much of the evidence would have been inadmissible in court.

"Somebody did something wrong here," Campbell said of the "horrible night" of Jan. 20, 2012, when flames lit up the sky in the close-knit community dependent on the sawmill.

"There's no clear answer as to what can be done. We need awareness raised that safety is first when a person goes to work. Carl trusted them — we trusted that Carl was in a safe environment to go do his work."

Burns Lake Mayor Luke Strimbold said the devastating blast has brought the community closer together and rebuilding the mill is an important step forward for the community.

Investigators found that Babine Forest Products knew it had an inadequate dust-collection system, after a similar explosion and fire in February 2011.

That blast was also blamed on accumulated dust, and Babine was cited for an occupational health and safety violation in December 2011 for failing to adequately reduce or control airborne wood dust in the mill.

Premier Christy Clark has appointed deputy minister John Dyble to look into the case, calling the matter urgent.

A few months after the Babine explosion, a blast at a mill in Prince George killed two men. (CKPG, The Canadian Press)

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