NEWPORT CITY – Columbia Forest Products employees will be on the job today even though a Sunday morning fire caused significant damage to part of the plant.
Firefighters responded to the plant, located off Union Street in Newport City, around 8:30 a.m. Upon arrival, firefighters saw smoke and there was fire in the boiler room and on the roof of the building.
This particular boiler room primarily feeds the vat, which the company uses to condition the logs prior to processing.
Chief Jamie LeClair sent in an exterior team and a roof team. Firefighters had the blaze under control in 15 to 20 minutes. The sprinkler system helped slow the fire.
A backup in the woodchip feeder caused the fire. Personnel on duty at the time heard a noise and went to investigate. When they saw the flames, they immediately called the fire department.
“There was just enough space between that and the chips to ignite it,” said LeClair. “The dust in that particular room ignited.”
Fire then went up the stairwell and destroyed a small building on the roof. Fire also damaged the roof itself.
"Right now the damage is isolated to the boiler room," said Glenn Foster, operations manager. "We plan to run tomorrow although we probably will not start up on first shift. We anticipate that we will be ready to start on second shift at 3 p.m. on our dryer.
Probably most of the damage is going to be with electronics, he explained, because wiring got wet when firefighters were putting out the fire, although there is a good deal of damage to the roof as well.
Foster predicts no loss of production this week. "If we start up tomorrow as planned on second shift, then we'll make up this first shift that we lost this coming Saturday," he said. Saturday was not a planned production day but it's not unusual to run on a Saturday.
"We rarely have fires involving flames," Foster said. He estimated such fires have happened less than six times over the last 10 years, and none quite as serious except for the big fire in 1995.
"We're still in the middle of determining what's been damaged; I don't know the extent of the damage quite yet."
In all, 35 firefighters from Newport City and Derby Line responded with 12 pieces of apparatus. Leclair spoke highly of the firefighters. Newport Ambulance Service, members from the department’s auxiliary and Red Cross personnel also responded to the scene.
Firefighters responded to two alarms that morning. As firefighters were preparing to head out to an alarm at Newport Furniture Parts, they got the call about the fire at Columbia Forest Products. Assistant Chief Pedro Grondin, who lead the team to the furniture parts factory, said that firefighters gained entrance to the building and called staff.
“We had a pretty good idea maybe it was a malfunction of the sprinkler system,” said Grondin. “The small compressor they use for a standby unit couldn’t take care of the air pressure so the water pressure overcame it and set it off.”
Firefighters were on the scene for about 30 minutes prior to joining the rest of the department at Columbia Forest Products.