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Fire, explosions didn't stop SE mill

Posted: December 6, 2011 - 1:05am

When an explosion and fire destroyed vital equipment at Icy Straits Lumber & Milling last year, owners Wes and Sue Tyler decided to keep their mill alive. Since then, they’ve purchased new mill equipment, filled old orders and took on new projects and saved much-needed jobs in the Hoonah area.

However, though the smoke of the fire has cleared, the skies remain a little cloudy for the small, value-added lumber mill.

“Every day has been and continues to be completely full of various challenges,” Wes said.

Wes said he would not try to rebuild all the fire destroyed. “The cost is too high,” Wes said. He had “very little insurance” on the mill, he said.

Instead, Wes said the mill bought a used portable mill to replace the primary breakdown saw it lost. A breakdown saw puts square edges on round logs and is a vital part of the milling process for Icy Straits.

“We were able to put some money down on it and have been sawing orders to make payments on it. We have kept it running full time since this spring,” Wes said.

Though the price was right, Wes said the portable mill does not produce as high a volume of lumber as the old mill. However, Icy Straits is working hard to keep up with orders, he said.

“With some prior inventory of squares, and presently cutting logs for orders and stock, we have been able to fill most all the calls for custom and high-value-added products,” Wes said. “Normally, we have enough logs in our yard to keep up with orders coming in.”

And keeping orders filled has allowed Icy Straits to retain much of its workforce.

“At first it looked like we were going to be down to two people at the mill” from a high of five to seven, Wes said. “But we worked four men steady all season,” he said.

An explosion and fire in the building housing Icy Straits’ primary breakdown saw destroyed the integral saw and building in July of 2010. At the time, Hoonah police chief John Millan, who had served in Iraq, compared the damage to that done by a hit from a “howitzer shell.”

Several days after the explosion, state Deputy Fire Marshal Bob Plumb said he believed the fire and explosion were dust explosions from saw dust — additional explosions at the site may have been caused when flames and heat came into contact with petrochemicals. However, without knowing the exact ignition source Plumb had to declare the source of the incident as undetermined, but accidental. The investigation lasted around four days.

Icy Straits Lumber & Milling, Inc. is located on Long Island near Whitestone Community, a 15-minute drive from Hoonah.

The Tylers and their employees produce custom cabin kits, siding, paneling, trim, structural and architectural timbers and dimensional lumber along with other custom milling projects. Customers for its cabin kits include the United States Forest Service. Icy Straits has sold or donated lumber kits for the Eagle Beach cabin and Lincoln Island cabin.

For more information visit www.alaskawoodproducts.com.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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