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Mill fire

July 6, 2005-Mill fire a total loss: Plant fire idles 290 employees
SUTHERLIN — Only the blackened tangle of machinery remained this morning at the destroyed Murphy Plywood plant, with some small fires burning in the debris and hazy smoke still clouding the burnt remains.

A fire that began in the roof of the Sutherlin plant Tuesday afternoon quickly spread to engulf several buildings on the property, destroying 250,000 square feet of the plant, said John Murphy, one of the plant owners. He estimated damage to be upward of $30 million.

A warehouse that contains plywood ready to be shipped was salvaged, along with the stacks of veneer in the yard.

A faulty motor inside one of the dryers used to dry veneer likely caused the fire, which began at 12:30 p.m., Murphy said. Fire departments and police are continuing to investigate the cause today.

A couple of Murphy Plywood employees looked in awe this morning at collapsed walls, remnants of machinery and mere frames of the giant dryers once used to dry veneer that would be made into plywood.

They thought about the jobs that had been destroyed along with the plant.

“It’s hard when you have kids. What can you do?” said Iain Wiseman, who worked at the plant for 2 1/2 years and has three children, one who lives with him in Sutherlin. “I could barely survive on what I made here.”

The plant, which converts thin sheets of veneer into thick boards of plywood, employs 290 people, 65 of whom were working when the fire started at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.

John Murphy, one of the plant’s owners, isn’t sure if he’ll rebuild.

“We’re going to regroup and come up with a strategy for our future,” he said.

Tim Howell was grading at the time the fire started. Thin sheets of veneer are fed through one of four giant dryers the size of a couple of train cars, and Howell was among those who sorted through the sheets when they came out. From there, the sheets are transferred to another warehouse before being put together to make plywood.

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