In excess of 50 firefighters from nearly every agency in the county responded to a blaze that gutted the particle board plant at Hambro Group early Saturday morning and is still smoldering.
Firefighters were forced to battle the blaze at Hambro's particle board plant from the outside. Photo courtesy of Debra Wakefield
The blaze left one firefighter with minor injuries, Crescent City Fire Chief Steve Wakefield said.
After being dispatched at about 6:30 a.m. to respond to an outbuilding on fire, fire crews arrived on scene to find the middle of the main building burning with flames quickly spreading, Wakefield said.
“Most of it was a wood structure. The wood was burning,” he said. “The other thing, in that old particle board plant there’s wood and sawdust everywhere. It’s basically like laying a bunch of gasoline down. Once it heats a little bit, it just goes up.”
With the wood structure collapsing all around them, firefighters attacked the blaze from the outside, Wakefield said. The wood structure supporting the metal roof burned so rapidly the building started to cave in. The fire also caused some gas cylinders to explode, said Hambro General Manager Joel Wallen.
There were still tiny spot fires when crews left Hambro about seven hours later, he said.
Spot fires are expected to burn for days, said Crescent City Fire Chief Steve Wakefield. Del Norte Triplicate / Jessica Cejnar
“It’s probably going to burn for days if not weeks,” he said. “Probably until it rains good.”
The building had been used to manufacture particle board for about 40 years, said Dwayne Reichlin, who joined the firm in 1968 and retired in 2011. Before that it was the site of an old plainer mill built in the 1940s, which was part of the wooden structure that was burning, he said. Hambro is currently in the process of dismantling the plant, Reichlin said.
Wakefield said it may be the dismantling operation that started the fire. Employees had been working with cutting torches as recently as Friday afternoon, he said.
“My guess is some sparks got into some wood chips and started smoldering,” Wakefield said. “Then through the course of the night it got to be a bit of a fire.”
A security guard noticed the blaze and called the fire department, Wakefield said.
Reichlin said when he arrived at the plant at about 9:30 a.m., fire crews were still knocking down some major blazes. The particle board plant was shut down about two years ago, he said. Hambro representatives were hoping to modify the unit, Reichlin said.
“I worked at the plant for 10 years and ran it for 30 years until I retired three years ago,” he said. “A lot of memories are buried out there.”
Hambro General Manager Joel Wallen said the fire shouldn’t affect Hambro’s current operations.
“We’ll see what we can do,” he said. “We’ve still got the warehouse and trucking shops and EcoNutrients is working fine. We’ve still got assets to work with.”
Firefighters responded to the scene from Crescent Fire Protection District, the Crescent City Volunteer Fire Department, the Fort Dick Volunteer Fire Department, the Smith River Volunteer Fire Department, Pelican Bay’s fire department and Calfire, Wakefield said. The Harbor Fire Department was available to respond to emergency calls in the north end of the county, he said.