Photo by Jake Boudrot -- A fire in a wood chip silo at the Port Hawkesbury Paper mill in Point Tupper on June 20 did not affect production at the region’s largest employer.

The Strait area heaved a giant sigh of relief after a fire in a wood ship silo at the Point Tupper operation proved to be minor.

Port Hawkesbury Paper (PHP), the owners of the mill, confirmed that the fire was discovered at approximately 7:20 p.m. on June 20.

PHP said the mill’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) and the Louisdale and District Volunteer Fire Department responded to the initial call, then calls were made to the Port Hawkesbury, Port Hastings, West Bay Road, and Antigonish volunteer fire departments to assist.

Port Hawkesbury Fire Chief Curtis Doucette told The Reporter they received a call around 7:45 p.m. and after arriving at the scene, the departments coordinated their fire suppression efforts with the mill’s ERT.

While fighting the fire, Doucette said two volunteer firefighters were injured and transported by Emergency Health Services to the Strait-Richmond Hospital, then to hospital in Halifax. Both were released the next day.

PHP also confirmed that two mill employees were taken to hospital for treatment and were also released soon after.

Brad Wells, information specialist with the Department of Labour, said their office in Port Hawkesbury was made aware of the fire and an investigator was dispatched to the scene around 10 p.m. that evening. He said the officer is currently investigating.

PHP said it is cooperating with the department in its investigation, and in the meantime, the company is investigating the cause of the fire.

Although crews from Port Hawkesbury, Port Hastings, West Bay Road, Louisdale, and Antigonish left the scene by the next day, Doucette said the ERT was still fighting the fire as of June 21.

PHP said the fire was under control at that time, and their response team was making progress toward extinguishing it completely.

As a result of the professional actions of the ERT, as well as local volunteer firefighters, PHP noted that the mill’s production has not and will not be impacted by the blaze.

Coincidentally, not long after the fire ignited, Richmond Municipal Council voted during its regular monthly meeting on June 20 in Arichat, to participate in a Memorandum of Understanding with the Town of Port Hawkesbury for fire protection services for the residents and businesses of Point Tupper.

Warden Brian Marchand noted that the agreement costs $49,645, and starts July 15, 2019, ending on July 14, 2020.

This came after the regular monthly meeting of Port Hawkesbury Town Council on June 11 when Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton confirmed the town’s volunteer fire department will be the new fire service provider for the Point Tupper area, on a trial run, while a third party figures out what that service is worth.

First of all, the single-minded bravery of all those who helped isolate and extinguish the fire deserves accolades, and lots of them. The employees, the volunteer firefighters, and the EHS staff who dispatched them to hospital, all admirably rose to the occasion and kept this incident minor.

And while it was good to hear that production at the mill was not disrupted by the fire, the fact that four people were released from hospital and not seriously injured, is the best news of all.

Any disruption to production would not be welcome news for the company which has turned around the Point Tupper operation from a bloated money-loser, to a streamlined profit-maker, but it would have been temporary, and not a major roadblock for a company that has proven so adept at operating the paper mill.

No, the fact that no lives were lost, that people were not seriously or permanently injured is the big story. After the fatal 1982 explosion at the very same mill shook the Strait area to its core, any incident that involves minor injuries is considered good news.