Workers back at Plum Creek as investigation into explosion begins

Jun 16, 2014

Plum Creek, Columbia Falls.
Credit Katrin Frye

An explosion and fire at one of Plum Creeks’ Columbia Falls plants Tuesday June 10th will keep the operation shut down a month. The fire happened in the Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) Plant, the neighboring sawmill and plywood mill were unaffected, and operations continue at those facilities.

Vice President of Northwest Resources and Manufacturing for Plum Creek Tom Ray said more than 60 workers on shift at the time evacuated safely.

“Upon the Fire, our person immediately hit the deluge system which goes live with all the fire suppression equipment; the water starts coming in the plant through the overhead sprinklers. At that point, some of the people also manned hoses to attempt to contain the fire until the fire department got there.”

MDF is a refined wood fiber pressed into a mat with resin and used in furniture, cabinetry and housing. The materials are flammable, and there have been cases of explosions cause by wood dust in other places, but Ray says the investigation has not yet identified the cause.

“Wood dust, within the plant itself is very minimal because of our housekeeping; we have very good housekeeping procedures in place. Now, we do use the wood fiber that’s used in the mat, and we have to look at the cause, but we’re not going to speculate on what might have happened,” Ray said.

Ray said the MDF plant employs about 1-hundred-80 people total. He said the plant is expected to reopen in about a month and in the meantime employees are working regular shifts, doing cleanup work.

“After we finish the cleanup phase, we will begin the repair phase, and they’ll be involved in that as well. If at any time we do have any extra employees that aren’t needed in the process, we’ll use them for vacation coverage relief at some of the other plants that we have here in the valley. So, our intent is to keep everyone employed through the work stoppage here,” Ray said.

Ray said they currently do not have any cost estimates on the damage from the fire.