Cause of fire that destroyed Forks-area mill undetermined

FORKS — The fire that destroyed a cedar shake mill Wednesday morning, further shrinking a once-flourishing West End industry, likely started in an area where electrical panels were located, Forks Fire Chief Bill Paul said Monday.

The owner did not have insurance or a sprinkler system, which were not required, Paul said, adding that three mill employees also lost their jobs.

Paul completed his investigation into the 185183 U.S. Highway 101 blaze Monday.

“The cause is undetermined,” he said.

Walking through the rubble, Paul quickly determined that the point of origin appeared to be in the area of a metal elevated platform inside the building that was twisted and melted almost to the ground where there were electrical panels.

“Everything else was pretty much burnt to nothing,” Paul said.

“It doesn’t appear to be a suspicious fire at all.

“It may be undetermined on the cause.

“There was no insurance, so it’s not an insurance issue or anything like that.”

There were about 200 pallets in the building loaded with bundles of cedar shakes, kindling that fueled the flames.

“It was such a huge fuel load,” Paul said.

“It burned so hot for so long.”

Olympic Cedar Products Inc. owner Francisco Contreras, who owned the mill, could not be reached for comment Friday and Monday.

Paul said Contreras reported being at the mill about 90 minutes before the fire was reported and did not notice any signs that a fire was burning.

“Those mills put out a lot of smoke,” Paul said.

“He probably would have seen something, he would have smelled it from the smoke from a small fire.”

Responders included the Forks, La Push and Clallam County Fire District No. 6 fire departments and a Forks ambulance crew, along with state Department of Natural Resources firefighters, who doused smoldering areas around the mill.

The fire was first reported at 8:35 a.m. Wednesday, according to the Peninsula Communications dispatch center.

An employee called 9-1-1 from the Pacific Shingle shake mill, about 100 yards north of Olympic Cedar Products, Pacific Shingle owner George Powers said Monday.

Contreras’ mill was one of five cedar shake mills in the Forks area, Powers said, adding that Rainy Day Shake & Shingle on Russell Road closed down about four months ago.

The phone at Rainy Day Shake was not working Monday.

Twenty-five years ago, when Powers was 18, there were 20 Forks-area shake mills running two shifts each, six or seven on Russell Road alone, he said.

“Now the four of us run one shift.

“It’s definitely gotten smaller.”

Powers said he, too, does not have insurance for Pacific Shingle.

He noted liability issues such as having dry cedar sawdust present during summer.

In addition, the wiring is old in the mills, which were built in the 1960s and ’70s.

“An insurance company wouldn’t touch the place,” he said.

“It would be impossible.”

Last Wednesday, Powers and his brother were fishing with their children off La Push— a summer-ending adventure before school started the next day — when he received text messages that suggested his own Pacific Shingle plant was in flames.

On learning it wasn’t, Powers said he felt relief for himself but sadness for his neighbor.

As of Friday, Contreras, who had owned the mill for about 20 years, was “still trying to grasp the whole thing,” Paul said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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