2017-03-18 / Front Page

Major area employer survives roaring blaze


Last weekend’s early-morning fire at Emporium Hardwoods in Shippen Township resulted in millions of dollars in damage. A company spokesman said many operations are continuing and laid-off employees will be called back once the facility can return to full production. Emporium Hardwoods employs about 100. Also affected are loggers and transportation contractors. Investigators know where the fire started and have described it as accidental in origin, but they’re still sifting through the ruins to learn more. As bad as the fire was, it could have been much worse if not for the quick response of trained firefighters who battled harsh winter conditions to keep the blaze from spreading and extinguish the flames. Last weekend’s early-morning fire at Emporium Hardwoods in Shippen Township resulted in millions of dollars in damage. A company spokesman said many operations are continuing and laid-off employees will be called back once the facility can return to full production. Emporium Hardwoods employs about 100. Also affected are loggers and transportation contractors. Investigators know where the fire started and have described it as accidental in origin, but they’re still sifting through the ruins to learn more. As bad as the fire was, it could have been much worse if not for the quick response of trained firefighters who battled harsh winter conditions to keep the blaze from spreading and extinguish the flames. A major employer in Cameron County is facing a costly rebuilding effort after fire roared through much of its complex in the wee hours of Saturday morning last weekend.

“It could have been so much worse,” was the reaction of Jay Ward, plant manager at the Emporium Hardwoods lumber mill on Rt. 120 near Emporium. “We are committed to rebuilding and getting our affected people back to work as soon as possible.”

Personnel from more than a dozen emergency agencies responded just after 4 am after a vehicle maintenance employee discovered the blaze raging in a processing building containing “green,” or recently cut, lumber. Firefighters from Emporium were joined by crews from Sinnemahoning, Austin, Coudersport, St. Marys, Renovo, Smethport, Ridgway, Johnsonburg, Port Allegany, Norwich Township and Fox Township.

They were hampered by high winds and single-digit temperatures, which caused a number of water lines to freeze. Emergency responders were forced to draw water from nearby Sinnemahoning Creek.

Authorities declared the fire under control at approximately 8 am. No injuries were reported.

The processing building, specialized equipment and other property were severely damaged. Preliminary estimates put losses at $7 million or more.

Pa. State Police Fire Marshal John Whitcomb said investigators have identified the origin of the fire, which was accidental in nature, but the cause has not yet been fully determined.

While many of the day-today operations at the lumber mill have resumed, a number of employees remain temporarily laid off. Ward said that the full extent of the damage won’t be known for some time, but that hasn’t stopped the company from planning its next move.

“It’s early in the process,” he said. “We’re working to supplement our lumber supply and moving people around to fill in with other departments.

Hardwoods has approximately 100 employees at its Emporium location and another 50 or so contracted workers, including truck drivers and logging crews.

Ward said if not for the quick response of emergency responders, the toll would have been much heavier.

“We thank the firefighters and everyone else involved for the effort they put in to help save our plant,” Ward said. “This could have been a total disaster if not for the amazing job they all did. Thanks to them, we still have a mill.”

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