A sudden fire at Hudbay’s Lalor mine has destroyed the camp kitchen and left workers scattered around northern Manitoba.
Starting around 4 p.m. July 5, the fire quickly engulfed the on-site kitchen facility, spreading to other areas of the camp and emitting thick, black smoke.
Word of the fire spread even more quickly throughout the community. Kim Stephen, a former mayor of Snow Lake, said her husband alerted her to the fire shortly after it happened.
“He came running back into the bus depot and he said, 'Oh my god, there's a fire. It's either at the town garage or up at the camp,'” she said.
“I go running outside and I saw it was at the camp and somebody came out of the hotel and said, 'It is the camp.'
No injuries were reported in the fire, but some of the nearby dormitory units at the camp were damaged. The kitchen is considered a total loss.
According to Hudbay, RCMP and the provincial Office of the Fire Commissioner are investigating the incident.
Efforts to support Hudbay employees affected by the fire began before the flames were extinguished. Hudbay workers living in the camp gathered in Snow Lake, with residents offering help for people displaced by the blaze, giving food, housing and transport for workers left without options. Community dinners were organized at the Lawrie Marsh Community Hall, with cooking staff from the Lalor camp and volunteers organizing meals. Freezer facilities at the nearby Joseph H. Kerr school have been used to keep food from spoiling.
“I asked what can we do from here and we said we had to feed these men that are coming to work night shift. Let's move to the community hall and organize the supper, let's do whatever it is we can do,” said Stephen.
“We started setting up enough tables and chairs for 240 people and went into the kitchen and I grabbed two big coffee pots. We hardly had any water pressure because the water was up with the fire, so we had to go and send somebody to get us jugs of water.”
Volunteers in the community made 400 sandwiches for hungry workers, working in shifts along with some kitchen staff from Lalor. Meals have been made at the hall regularly since the fire.
Once stomachs were filled, concerns turned to where the employees would sleep.
Affected workers have had to find short term accommodations while the temporary camp is built. Hotel rooms, campsites and lodges near Snow Lake are either at or near full capacity. Some workers are staying with friends, relatives or coworkers in and near Snow Lake, crashing on couches.
“Every room we could possibly get is booked,” Stephen said.
“People have just been answering. Somebody might take in two people, somebody only one. We've made a list of who can all take in people and that's just what we've been doing.”
According to both Hudbay officials and Stephen, no incidents like the one at the Lalor camp have taken place in recent years.
“It’s been years. Even when I was the mayor, nothing like this has happened,” said Stephen.
Hudbay confirmed work activity at both Lalor mine and the nearby Stall concentrator is continuing as scheduled and no long-term impact on production targets is anticipated. Operations at Lalor are anticipated to be back to normal by late July. Senior company figures from Flin Flon have travelled to Snow Lake to monitor the situation.
“We’re pretty confident we’ll turn this around in a couple of weeks and have it back to normal,” said Scott Brubacher, director of corporate communications for Hudbay.
Construction for a temporary camp for 130 workers is set to begin later this week on town property near the original Lalor camp, with kitchen facilities and dormitories slated to be ready around July 15. According to a statement from United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7106 president Tom Davie released on July 7, two undamaged dorms may be ready for workers to move into by July 10 at the earliest.
Speaking about the volunteering and the community response, Stephen said she was pleased but not surprised.
“This is how Snow Lake is. It doesn’t matter what the crisis is, Snow Lake is there. I’m a believer in our community and I know, when there’s a crisis, that people will pull together,” she said.
Brubacher concurred, saying, “we cannot say enough how grateful we are to the community of Snow Lake proper. People had ideas and they’re pitching in spontaneously. We’re grateful and very appreciative.”