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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Potlatch mill resumes operations after fire damages equipment

Associated Press

LEWISTON – The sawmill at Potlatch Corp.’s Lewiston plant resumed operation Thursday after a Wednesday evening fire caused extensive damage to conveyor belts and other equipment.

“It was a very small part of the mill, but the damage that area incurred was severe,” said Michael D. Sullivan, Potlatch spokesman. “We’re very fortunate that this didn’t result in something much worse.”

Potlatch manufactures lumber, tissue, paperboard and pulp at the Lewiston complex along the Clearwater River. It’s one of the biggest employers in north-central Idaho, with 1,800 workers.

The fire was discovered by employees at 4:45 p.m. in the “bag house” of a power boiler that burns wood waste to create steam for cooking pulp and drying paper. The bag house collects fine wood dust, and officials are unsure how the fire started there.

Flames then spread to a dry fuel storage area, where waste wood is piled to be ground up for use in the boiler. The resulting blaze sent clouds of smoke thousands of feet high.

Potlatch fire crews were assisted by the Lewiston Fire Department and neighboring Washington state crews from Clarkston, Asotin City and Asotin County in containing the fire an hour after it was reported.

One Potlatch employee was treated at a Clarkston hospital for smoke inhalation, said Sullivan. No estimate on the cost of the damage was available.

Fire crews spent the night watching for hot spots in the debris, and sawmill operations were suspended for a portion of one overnight shift.

Last year, a fire in Potlatch’s tissue plant in Lewiston caused no major damage but injured one firefighter. In March 1980, five men, including three firefighters, were killed in a fire in the mill’s tissue plant.

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