Sawmill fire sees big flames, little damage

CAVE JUNCTION — A fire that started in the planer room and spread through exhaust pipes to bins full of sawdust drew five fire engines and two dozen firefighters to the Rough and Ready sawmill Monday afternoon.

Workers watched as firefighters sprayed water and foam on the 40-foot-tall sawdust silos to quell the fire. Flames belched from the silos when sawdust was dumped from the bottom.

The damage was limited to some burned pipes and the planer room. The rest of the sawmill was not affected, said company spokesman Joe Krauss.

The planer could be up and running again by today, he said.

No one was injured. The area around the silos was covered in foam, sawdust and fire hoses afterward.

The planer trims and smooths the milled lumber, and friction likely ignited a splinter that spread to a fire, Krauss said. He said in all his years around the mill, he couldn't remember a fire starting in the planer room.

Harry Rich, fire chief for the Illinois Valley Fire Department, said fires involving sawdust are explosively dangerous.

"It blew up like it was gasoline," he said. "They burn very hot and fierce.

"You can see how hot that fire was to buckle that paint," he added, pointing to the peeling green paint on the large pipes of the exhaust system.

The sawdust collected in the bins is loaded onto trucks and burned in the mill's cogeneration plant, built a few years ago to sell power back to Pacific Power and to run dryers.

The mill had been running full tilt for just a week when the fire hit, Krauss said. For a month, the large sawmill had been idled because of electrical problems, even as a smaller mill, sorters and dryers continued to operate.

But the fire on Monday wasn't expected to slow things down much, he added.

Illinois Valley sent all four of its engines, and Rural/Metro Fire Department sent one. American Medical Response ambulance also responded.

The mill has been owned by the Krauss Family for the better part of the last century in the Illinois Valley, more than 50 years at the current site. On Monday owner Jennifer Krauss Phillippi was at an Oregon Board of Forestry meeting, and her husband, Link Phillippi, was away buying timber, Joe Krauss said. They normally oversee the day-to-day operations at the mill.

Jeff Duewel is a reporter for the Grants Pass Daily Courier. Reach him at 541-474-3720 or jduewel@thedailycourier.com

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