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Fire at Nippon Port Angeles, Washington facility

PORT ANGELES, Washington (From the Peninsula Daily News) -- A fire that burned through a conveyor belt was extinguished last week at the nearly dormant Nippon Paper Industries USA mill.

Mill employees reported the fire near the top of the mill's cogeneration plant at 7 p.m. Thursday, 9 March 2017, Port Angeles Fire Department Capt. James Mason said Friday in a prepared statement.

No injuries were reported.

"The monetary damage is negligible," mill manager Steve Johnson said Friday in an email.

Johnson said the cogeneration plant was taken offline Thursday night. He said Friday he expected operation to resume Saturday morning after the belt was repaired.

"We are finalizing our investigation, but the preliminary cause appears to be friction-generated heat caused by belt slipping on the drive pulley," he said in the email.

The fire department was alerted after smoke became visible from the top of the conveyor belt that moves biomass cogeneration boiler fuel to the conical silo at the plant.

The fire department responded with an engine and a 100-foot aerial ladder truck, Mason said.

The fire was extinguished with pressurized water containers and a fire extinguisher.

No hose lines were extended due to the remote, elevated location, Mason said.

The paper mill, which had employed 105 hourly workers, has been shut down since Jan. 21, but a skeleton maintenance crew is on duty and the cogeneration plant, which produces steam for the mill and electricity for sale, is still in operation.

The mill will close down completely at the end of March while it is retrofitted by its new owner, McKinley Paper Co., a U.S. subsidiary of Mexico-based Bio Pappel.

McKinley signed a purchase agreement for the mill March 2.

Herb Baez, McKinley's vice president of operations, said in an earlier interview that the sale for an undisclosed price will be completed by March 31.

"It's in the process of being finalized, but it's not been done yet," Baez said Friday.

"It seems to be going OK, as planned, so far."

He said the mill's cogeneration plant will restart when the mill is retooled and begins manufacturing recycled containerboard.

The plant, owned by Nippon Paper Industries of Tokyo, produced lightweight paper, newspaper stock and telephone-book paper.

Baez said that once the mill shuts down completely, it may not start up again until spring 2018.

Earlier estimates had put the shutdown at six months to a year.

"It's looking like it will probably be at least a year," Baez said, adding that a study is being conducted on the cost of retrofitting the plant.

"People who are looking into that haven't given us their study," Baez said.

The plant had two operating paper machines until one was shut down in December 2014.

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