The fire that caused extensive damage to the Fulghum Fibres mill that supplies the chips for Woodland Pulp did not interrupt production at the pulp mill, as Fulghum Fibres brought in two portable chippers within a week and also had a supply of chips on site.
The fire broke out at 1:47 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4, in the three-story-high metal building that houses the chipper and debarker. According to Baileyville Fire Chief John McPhee, workers had been performing routine maintenance, cutting and welding metal, when a spark got into the walls where there is a great amount of dust. The workers put out the fire, but five or 10 minutes later the operator of a crane in the building saw some smoke. McPhee says they tried to put the fire out again, but it was difficult to get to it inside the walls. "It took off from there," he says, going up to the top of the building, which is about 200' x 350', and then down across it.
Approximately 35 firefighters from Baileyville, Calais, St. Stephen, Princeton and Alexander fought the blaze, and Downeast EMS ambulance stood by. None of the firefighters or workers were injured. McPhee says that the fire was pretty much out by 7 p.m., but crews stayed on through the night to put out hot spots. The building was turned back over to Fulghum Fibres at 9:30 the following morning.
The fire caused extensive damage, but McPhee notes that most of the equipment in the building is heavy metal machinery, most of which was not damaged. Much of the damage was to the inside wooden walls, the insulation inside the outside sheet metal walls, and hydraulic, electrical and air compressor systems. The fire chief guesses that the damage could amount to about $1 million.
Julie Cafarella, vice president of communications for Rentech, Fulghum Fibres' parent company, says the company is still working with its insurance company on the damage estimate.
According to Carafella, two portable chippers were expected to be producing chips at the site this week, and Fulghum Fibres has been working with Woodland Pulp to ensure that the pulp mill does not experience any interruption in its supply of chips. She says that the portable chippers will be able to supply a large portion of the chips needed by the pulp mill, and Fulghum Fibres is working on securing other means to obtain more chips, including possibly more portable units. Carafella notes that the chip mill had an inventory of chips on site to supply the Woodland mill and also logs to continue with the chip production.
Fulghum Fibres will be rebuilding the chip mill, and by Friday, March 7, the debris had already been removed. Core pieces of equipment were removed intact, she said. Also, 95% of the machinery needed to replace the lost equipment had been secured by the company, so "it's just a matter of receiving and installing the new equipment now."
Scott Beal, spokesman for Woodland Pulp, says, "We plan on continuing to run at capacity." While Fulghum Fibres supplied the majority of chips used by the mill, Beal says that the mill is working on alternatives for the supply of chips.
Eastport Port Director Chris Gardner says that the chip mill fire will have no effect on the port's shipments from Woodland Pulp. He notes that it's possible the port might import chips to help supply the mill, if needed.
The Fulghum Fibres chip mill employs 42 workers.