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Sawmill catches fire

MCCALL, Idaho (From news reports) -- The Evergreen Forest Products sawmill south of New Meadows on U.S. Highway 95 closed this week after a fire broke out in the mill's main building early Monday morning, according to Meadows Valley Fire and EMS.

Nobody was hurt in the fire, which is expected to keep the Evergreen mill, also known as the Tamarack Mill, closed for up to two weeks.

"Two employees heard explosions and saw the fire around the mill's two bandmill headrigs," Evergreen president Rodney Krogh told The Star-News on Tuesday.

Meadows Valley Fire and EMS was dispatched to the scene at about 1:15 a.m. Monday, Feb. 13, after the fire was reported by the two employees on shift, fire chief Doug Buys said.

MV Fire sent about 10 firefighters to battle the flames and also received assistance from McCall Fire and EMS, Council Fire and EMS and Indian Valley Fire.

"The sawmill's fire suppression sprinklers kicked in shortly after we got there, which did a major knockdown on the fire," Buys said, adding that the building suffered "extensive" damage.

Buys estimated about 15,000 gallons of water were used to extinguish the flames. Firefighters cleared the scene around 6 a.m.

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the State Fire Marshal's Office, fire marshal Knute Sandahl said.

Krogh suspects the fire started in an electrical control panel that feeds power to the headrig, which makes the first cuts on unprocessed logs entering the mill.

"No major equipment was damaged, it's mostly just electrical, control panels, computers and scanners," he said. "The roof and side of the building around the headrigs will need to be replaced."

Most of the sawmill's 60 employees are expected to collect unemployment while repairs are made to the mill.

"We will be bringing people back as needed," Kogh said.

Kogh is optimistic that the mill will be able to resume partial production within about two weeks. Partial production would yield about 200,000 board feet of lumber per day, compared to the sawmill's normal production of 400,000 board feet per day.

It could take three to six months for the mill to return to full production.

The sawmill is the second largest employer in Adams County behind only the Payette National Forest, according to data from the Idaho Department of Labor.

The mill squeezes every cent it can from a log by repurposing what is not made into lumber.

Bark fuels a six-megawatt power plant that produces enough electricity to power 4,800 homes, while sawdust and chips go to Clearwater Paper's mill in Lewiston.

Lumber from the Evergreen mill is bought locally in McCall and Boise and as far as markets in Montana, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and the Midwest. Logs processed by the mill are mostly cut from timber sales on state land and private land in areas between Riggins, Horseshoe Bend and Cambridge.

The mill normally operates 20 hours per day Monday through Friday. Maintenance on the mill is done on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

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