Mary’s River Lumber in Montesano got back to work Tuesday, at least in part, after a fire burned its mill building beyond salvage. The owners do plan to rebuild the mill on the existing site, the general manager confirmed.
Mill General Manager Terry Smith said 40 to 45 workers were back to work Tuesday, working on planing and other functions not affected by the blaze. He said the mill hopes to have as many as 60 back to work in the near future, more than half the workforce.
“The fire departments, all divisions, did a fantastic job of protecting all of our other buildings. One is going to be a loss. They fought the fire and kept things from spreading,” Smith said. He praised the efforts of law enforcement for helping with all aspects of the operation, as well.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic the way they handled themselves. And nobody got hurt, that’s what’s important. The rest of it’s just steel and wood,” Smith said.
Montesano Fire Chief Corey Rux said there were a few issues with hot spots after the fire was put out early Sunday, but the scene was cleared at about 5 p.m. Monday. Insurance investigators moved in quickly to start work on determining the cause of the blaze.
“We’re prepared to have a pretty lengthy investigation process, it’s going to take some time for the investigators to get through everything,” Rux said.
Rux and Aberdeen Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Rich Malizia conducted a preliminary investigation, but were unable to find a cause because the building itself was too unstable after the fire for them to safely investigate.
The Montesano and Cosmopolis fire departments and fire districts 2, 5 and 10 all worked to put out the fire, which took more than eight hours.
Rux praised the efforts of all the firefighters who pitched in, roughly 35 in total.
“They did an outstanding job,” he said.
The Montesano City Council also had praise for their work.
“This was a difficult situation for all involved. The degree of training and experience of the fire department was very evident in this incident,” the council said in an press release issued Tuesday night.
Council member Pam McElliott said she was happy the mill would rebuild, and knew how worried the workers must have been for their futures when the fire damaged the mill.
“I personally worked at a business that burned to the ground, so I know how they felt,” she said.
Less than a day after the scene was cleared, it was business as usual on everything that was untouched by the fire and not part of the investigation. The planer building was buzzing with activity Tuesday. It was rebuilt after another fire burned it to the ground in 2000.
“It’s just like nothing’s happened, the guys are going and we’re running like we should,” Smith said.
The main saw mill building will be rebuilt, Smith said, partly because the land the company owns near Elma doesn’t have the room for what the mill does in Montesano, but largely because of the community.
“It’s a fantastic community,” Smith said. “I like this community and I fight to keep it here all the time. It’s worked for us.”
Smith added that the support from throughout the community during the fire was greatly appreciated. Thriftway opened up late at night to donate water and ice to firefighters, and Gepetto’s Italian Restaurant sent over pizzas. The Grays Harbor PUD helped by shutting off power to the mill while leaving the lights on in other parts of the property, helping firefighters to see better, and the city’s Public Works staff was on hand monitoring the water flowing to fight the fire.