Local news

40 without work as fire shuts down Colville lumber mill

About 40 workers at the Vaagen Bros. Lumber mill in Colville were sent home Thursday after a fire in the mill’s turbine and electrical equipment disabled operations.

Russ Vaagen, the plant’s vice president, said he expects that workers will return as operations are restored over the next few weeks.

But damage to the company’s co-generation turbine, which sold power to the electrical grid, was so severe that it may not be restored for a year or longer, he said.

The fire broke out about 9 p.m. Wednesday in the portion of the plant that converts bark fuel into steam and electricity.

Two workers on the scene were unable to stop the fire, which spread quickly. The workers were taken to Providence Mount Carmel Hospital in Colville for treatment of inhalation of carbon monoxide or smoke but were not otherwise injured, Vaagen said.

The Colville Fire Department extinguished the fire within about two hours.

The blaze may have started in an oil circulating pump, Vaagen said, and became hot very quickly, extending into an electrical switch gear that regulates the flow of power to and from the region’s power grid.

The adjacent boiler provides steam power for the turbine generator and for steam used in the lumber mill, Vaagen said.

The turbine produced four megawatts of electrical power for the plant and for co-generation. Electrical production was worth $160,000 a month in revenue to the company, Vaagen said.

Replacing the damaged co-generating system could take a year to 18 months, he said.

The mill produces dimensional lumber, including machine-stress-rated lumber, as well as wood byproducts such as beauty bark, hog fuel, wood chips, shavings and sawdust. The mill is located at 565 W. Fifth in Colville.

Vaagen said the mill has a two-week supply of lumber, and he hoped that the mill could be restored to keep the supply moving to buyers. However, he said some customers might be affected in later weeks.

The plant has insurance coverage, he said.

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