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Fire at shuttered Port Alberni sawmill being treated as suspicious

Port Alberni fire investigators are working with RCMP on the case.
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Firefighters from Port Alberni, Beaver Creek, Cherry Creek, and Sproat Lake departments responding to a fire at the Somass mill site in Port Alberni on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. PORT ALBERNI FIRE VIA X

A fire at the Somass sawmill in Port Alberni on Saturday is being treated as suspicious.

Port Alberni Fire Chief Mike Owens said firefighters from the Beaver Creek, Cherry Creek and Sproat Lake departments also responded to the blaze.

At its peak, the fire was 40 feet by 40 feet and flames were three storeys high, though it affected less than a quarter of the structure, he said. “The building itself is quite a large industrial building.”

Crews extinguished the blaze just before 9:15 p.m., and city contractors were on site overnight to provide security and to prevent any flare-ups, he said.

Owens said the department’s fire investigators are working with RCMP on the case.

The Somass sawmill, established in 1935, has not operated since 2017 after it was shut down by Western Forest Products over a lack of log supply and softwood lumber disputes between Canada and the United States.

The City of Port Alberni purchased the 50-acre Somass division mill site and nearby properties for $5.3 million in 2021 when it became clear that mill operations would not return.

There are plans for the site to be redeveloped into a mix of parks, retail, offices and ­housing.

mjlo@timescolonist.com