A small pulp mill extensively damaged by fire last week could be running again at a new site by April, a company executive says.
The Sustainable Fiber Technologies pilot plant near Dayton, Wash., was damaged by fire the morning of Jan. 29.
The company makes pulp from wheat straw. The pulp is used to make packaging, molded products such as paper cups and plates, tissues, towels and paper, according to the company’s website.
Mark Lewis, CEO of Sustainable Fiber and Phoenix Pulp and Polymer, estimated the fire caused “well over $1 million” in damage.
He said the cause has not yet been determined.
“The firefighters said it was too hot to determine,” he said.
Columbia County Fire District 3 Chief Jeromy Phinney said the fire is still under investigation.
“It took several hours to get it under control because of the large size of the building and the amount of fire there was,” Phinney said.
Phinney doesn’t have an expected timeline for a report.
“It was pretty heavily damaged, so there’s a lot of work to do to try to find (the cause),” he said.
The building that burned was 18,000 square feet and could produce a little more than 1 ton of pulp per day, Lewis said.
Lewis said he and his engineers are already working to get a temporary set-up in one of the other buildings on the 4-acre site, and then a more permanent facility.
He said he hopes the new facility will be “a little bit bigger and a little bit better than what we had in the existing building that caught fire,” he said. “I’m really hoping we’re back up and running on the temporary site in April.”
The damaged facility, and the entire complex, are devoted to research, Lewis said. The company received materials from across the country, primarily wheat straw, switchgrass, sorghum, hemp and other raw materials.
Lewis isn’t sure yet what can be recovered from the fire. He expected a fire inspector and insurance adjustors Feb. 6.
He estimated nearly 500 tons of straw was on the property. No straw was damaged by the fire, he said. He expected to be able to recover the straw sprayed by firefighters to prevent the fire from spreading to it, he said.
Sustainable Fiber, Phoenix Pulp and Polymer and Lewis have had a technical relationship with Columbia Pulp, which is building a pulp plant in Starbuck, Wash., but the legal, business and manufacturing entities are run independently, Columbia Pulp said in a statement.
In the statement, Columbia Pulp said the fire did not impact any of its facilities, straw inventory or processing equipment.
“We continue to produce products daily at our Pomeroy facility and look forward to our first production at the Lyons Ferry Facility in the spring,” Columbia Pulp said in the statement.
Lewis said he is thankful to the community for its support. Many farmers have reached out to offer support, he said.
“We’re going to be back up and running as quickly as we can,” he said.