The sawmill at Mary’s River Lumber in Montesano burned to the ground Saturday night with firefighters planning to work until the early hours of the morning to ensure the fire remains contained.
Montesano Fire Chief Corey Rux said in a late-night interview that the site appeared to be unoccupied when the fire started shortly after 9 p.m. He said there were no injuries and none of his firefighters were having any problems.
The fire either started in a huge metal holding device full of wood chips or the sawmill itself. The container was about a quarter full of wood chips with fire smoldering inside the metal container, typically used to hold the chips in the the elevated structure before dumping them into a truck.
Firefighters hosed the chip container down trying to ensure the metal didn’t buckle and in hopes of filling it with water. They also attacked the sawmill fire itself from at least three different directions.
Mary’s River Lumber, which sits on the banks of the Chehalis River, has one large sawmill. The older part of the structure is made entirely out of wood, while an upgraded section is made of steel. The wooden part was a total loss with the roof collapsing in on the entire structure within an hour of the fire starting.
Montesano Fire and Fire District 2 used manned hoses and ladder trucks to attack the fire from the exterior throughout the night.
Mary’s River General Manager Terry Smith, who has worked at the mill for the past 25 years, said the mill employs about 105 people. Smith noted that the mill last experienced a fire back in 2000, which brought down the planer mill. That building was re-built and operations continued.
“Hopefully, we can bounce back from this, too,” Smith said.
Smith guided firefighters with tips on how the buildings are constructed and what areas to hit with water.
“Those chips will just sit and smolder,” Smith told firefighters. “Or put water on it. Just do what you have to do.”
Montesano Police closed off Highway 107 in front of the lumber mill in both directions. In fact, about five cars were trapped on the highway between two working hoses and police had to evacuate the occupants because the cars were too close to a building containing chemicals. About a dozen people walked about a half mile away to wait out the fire.
Flames shot into the sky and could be seen from Highway 12 and drew dozens more people and cars to the fire, which could be seen as far away as Brady.
Adam Vessey said he and his dad truck logs to the mill site with Vessey & Sons Construction and he was worried about what could happen to his business, as well as to the employees at the mill.
“This could be devastating for everyone,” Vessey said. “This is our main business right here.”
Joe Simonson was driving to Aberdeen shortly after he noticed the fire on the skyline. Simonson, who worked at the mill some 15 years ago, pulled over and walked to the mill to take a look.
“It’s like the fires of hell,” Simonson said. “The fires just rocketed up to the sky.”
Jeff Yeoman said he worked at the mill for about three years until 2001. He also saw the fire from the highway and had to take a look.
“I thought it was a forest fire because it was just so big,” he said. “But I see where the fire is and it’s the mill. I know it. There’s so much wood in there, it’s going to be burning for hours and hours.”
View video of the fire online: