2020-08-19

“Suspicious” fire at Oickle’s mill

by Keith Corcoran

An industrial landmark northeast of New Germany was damaged by a "suspicious" fire during the afternoon of August 7.

Neil Oickle's sawmill in Stanburne caught fire just before the supper-hour, igniting what's believed to be the planer building, a large pile of waste wood, and some of the woods surrounding the Stanburne Road site.

The fire "was called in by a neighbour who lives past the mill, on top of a hill," Blair Lantz, chief of New Germany's volunteer fire department, told LighthouseNOW.

First responders from New Germany were summoned to Stanburne at about 5:55 p.m. and help from fire departments in Hemford and Northfield district were needed to extinguish the significant blaze.

The two-storey planer building, which measured about 23 metres in length and five metres in width, was fully involved in flames, Lantz said, but emergency crews were able to prevent the sawmill side from destruction. "We were able to protect and save that," he said.

While it took an hour to knock down the flames, responders remained on scene for about five hours to ensure there were no flare-ups.

One firefighter had to be assessed by paramedics and medical first responders for heat-related illness. Hot and humid conditions in the dog days of summer made for challenging fire suppression efforts.

Firefighters used high-capacity water jets, sometimes referred to as deck guns, from a pair of pumpers to deal with fire in the five-metre-high pile of wood shavings that had a base measuring three metres in size. A working hydrant within 100 metres of the site helped with water supply.

The fire in the woods spread from the mill, Lantz said, and scorched mostly a hectare of small brush along the ground. The province's Department and Lands and Forestry was notified.

"We set up lines to put out the woods fire and drown the structure that was on fire," Lantz explained.

The preliminary investigation led Lantz to contact police to take over the file.

There was no electricity to the mill, there hadn't been activity on the property for days, and a half-ton truck was seen leaving the driveway shortly before smoke was noticed. Lantz said there was no evidence of any accelerant.

"It was suspicious, so I had the RCMP respond and take over the investigation."

Oickle's mill hasn't been fully operational in years. "It was used quite a bit 20 years ago," Lantz explained. "It was a big thing in that area" at the time.

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