June 23, 2018
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‘All the walls are gone’: Fire idles wood chip mill in Baileyville

By Tim Cox, BDN Staff

BAILEYVILLE, Maine — A fire caused extensive damage to the Fulghum Fibres Inc. wood chip mill, leaving a building dedicated to debarking logs and processing them into chips unusable, Baileyville Fire Chief John McPhee said Wednesday.

It took firefighters from Baileyville and four other departments about three hours to bring the blaze under control Tuesday afternoon, he said.

The three-story metal building contained machinery and equipment for debarking and chipping. Although some of the machines may be salvaged, other equipment was destroyed, and the building sustained considerable damage, according to McPhee.

“All the walls are gone,” explained McPhee.

Although there was structural damage to some main beams, “the building itself is still intact and pretty much sound,” he said.

Hydraulic lines, air lines, and electrical components “are all gone,” said McPhee.

Asked to estimate the value of the loss, McPhee said, “I’m guessing close to [$1 million] before we’re all said and done.”

Fulghum Fibres, which has other chipping facilities in the U.S., mainly in the South, employs 42 people at is Baileyville operations, which supplies chips to the huge Woodland Pulp mill in Baileyville.

“We’re currently assessing the impact of the fire,” Julie Cafarella, a spokeswoman for California-based Rentech, Fulghum’s parent company, said Wednesday. The company is committed to repairing or rebuilding the chip mill, but she was unable to say when it could be accomplished and what it would cost.

The company also was “working on how we can maintain the flow of wood chips” to Woodland Pulp, she said, but it will find a way to provide “uninterrupted service” to the pulp mill. One alternative may be the use of portable chipping equipment, she said.

“That could be a possibility,” said Cafarella.

Fulghum Fibres supplies the majority of chips used by the neighboring pulp mill, said Woodland Pulp spokesman Scott Beal. However, the fire and idling of the chip mill will not affect the company’s operations, he said Wednesday.

“We plan on running full out,” said Beal, who indicated the company also relies on other suppliers of wood chips.

“We’ll have to look at some alternatives,” added Beal, to keep the mill adequately supplied with chips, “but we plan on running.”

The fire, reported at 1:46 p.m. Tuesday, was caused by routine maintenance work, McPhee reported. Maintenance workers were using torches to cut or weld metal, and sparks ignited material behind a wall.

“They spotted it and put it out,” said McPhee.

However, a crane operator outside saw a puff of smoke about five to 10 minutes later.

The sparks ignited insulation as well as dust that accumulated behind the walls, according to McPhee. “Being a chip mill, it was dusty as all heck,” he said, and dust had accumulated over the years.

The fire quickly climbed to the top of the building.

“She took off from there,” said McPhee. He estimated the fire traveled the length of the 300-foot-long, 75-foot-wide building in about 10 minutes.

About 35 firefighters responded from Baileyville, Calais, Princeton, Alexander and St. Stephen, New Brunswick, said McPhee. Some firefighters remained on the scene overnight.

No injuries were reported.

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