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Spark brings flames, destroys old sawmill
State Road 52 traffic backs up for miles as the structure burns. No one was injured.
By LISA BUIE, Times Staff Writer
Published December 20, 2007
A fire sends up a large cloud of smoke as it guts Crossroads Sawmill on Wednesday afternoon, closing a section of State Road 52. The sawmill was started in 1968 by Virgil Williams Sr., who said it wasn't insured. "It's too costly," he said. "You just have to hope you never have a loss."
[David Degner | Times]
[David Degner | Times]
Crossroads Sawmill owner Virgil "Lee" Williams Jr. and his father, Virgil Williams Sr., stand back as firefighters douse the blaze at the sawmill. "It was pretty hot in there," a rescue chief said. "It spread real quick because of all the sawdust and wood chips."
GOWERS CORNER - A nearly 40-year-old sawmill was gutted Wednesday afternoon after a spark from a grinder set some sawdust on fire.
No one was injured at Crossroads Sawmill on State Road 52 just west of U.S. 41, but the smoke could be seen from Land O'Lakes High School. Sheriff's deputies closed SR 52 at U.S. 41 during rush hour, backing up traffic for miles.
The fire, reported about 3:30 p.m., was the third that Pasco firefighters responded to Wednesday.
"Someone was working with a grinder on the second floor, and sparks caught the sawdust below and came up the other side of the floor," county Fire Marshal Larry Whitten said.
Damage was estimated at $500,000 to the metal building surrounded by piles of logs and finished wood.
Whitten said at least two employees were in the building at the time of the fire, but they escaped unharmed. Workers tried to put out the fire with five portable fire extinguishers. One of the mill's owners already had begun moving logs with a tractor to make it easier for firefighters to access the mill.
Rescue Chief Duncan Hitchcock said firefighters would remain at the scene until they were certain the blaze would not reignite. They planned to spray foam on the sawdust to allow for better water penetration.
"It was pretty hot in there," he said of the fire. "It spread real quick because of all the sawdust and wood chips."
Virgil Williams Sr. opened the mill in 1968. He later sold it to his two sons, Jeff and Virgil Jr., who is also known as Lee. A daughter who lives in Texas is also a business partner.
The elder Williams said the family had no insurance.
"It's too costly," he said. "You just have to hope you never have a loss."
The mill saws cypress logs into a variety of sizes. The company also is home to a privacy fence operation.
Williams said the mill employs about 15. He said he hoped there would still be enough work to keep them all employed, especially this close to Christmas.
He said the mill has had two previous fires, one about 15 years ago and another more recent one started by a cigarette.
The fire marshal said firefighters recommended some changes to the mill's setup after the last fire, and the owners complied.