Firefighters save sawmill near Osage

Tuesday, April 22, 2003
The Osage sawmill, which towers above the Osage valley in south Carroll County, was the scene of a fire that began early Wednesday morning and required the aid of five area departments. Pictured (from left) were South Carroll County Fire Association Chief LeeRoy Duncan, Alpena Fire Chief Walt Record, and South County firefighter Marty Stines, aiming a fire hose at a pile of smoldering sawdust. CCN / Anna Mathews

More than two dozen volunteer firefighters from five area departments responded to a blaze at the Osage sawmill Wednesday morning after a smoldering sawdust pile ignited piles of slab wood.

South Carroll County Fire Chief LeeRoy Duncan said the entire mill would have burned, and the surrounding countryside, if a passer-by hadn't seen the blaze and notified authorities.

Duncan said his department was toned out at around 2:30 a.m. Upon arrival, the slab wood piles were in flames, along with a portion of the sawmill.

Firefighters from Marble, Alpena, Green Forest, and Berryville were summoned to help.

Alpena firefighter Beth Randleman said, "When we were bringing the first load of water, it looked like the whole mountain was on fire. On our next trip, the mountain was covered with flashing lights from responding units."

All totaled, 28 truckloads of water, amounting to 46,000 gallons, were trucked in to put on the fire.

According to Duncan, this blaze was ignited by a lingering fire that has been smoldering in a sawdust pile for months.

South Carroll County firefighters have responded numerous times to douse the flare-ups.

At Wednesday's blaze, firefighters insisted that heavy equipment be brought in to dig through the sawdust pile ---- with the intent of extinguishing the smoldering fire once and for all.

Early in the day, Dennis Rains, from Harrison, used a bulldozer to dig deep while firefighters spayed the smoldering pile.

Realizing that the dozer wasn't going to get the job done, Rains returned to Harrison and came back with a backhoe, which he used to turn over the 35-foot-deep sawdust pile.

"He turned it upside down, and each time there was smoldering, we knocked it down with water," explained Suellyn Fry, with South County.

The effort took most of the day.

Firefighter Rick Wheatley said the smoldering pile has been an "on-and-off problem" for several months and that firefighters "wanted to have it out."

Wheatley and nine other South County volunteers were on the scene from approximately 2:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. ---- more than 13 hours. Plus, they had another hour of work ahead of them cleaning and rolling up hoses once they returned to the fire house.

The other departments were sent home during the morning hours after making repeated runs to Alpena to refill their trucks with water.

Fry said Alpena firefighters were the last assisting department to be released, and they departed about noon.

"We're all just volunteers," Fry noted. "A lot of us missed a days work, and some won't get paid.

"And, there are others besides us who are affected, namely employers," she continued. "These situations put them in a bind, and they need to be recognized and appreciated."

Wheatley said all the South County firefighters stayed on the scene throughout the day dousing the sawdust pile while the backhoe dug.

Water to continue the effort was obtained from a hydrant at the Eagle Mountain Training Center, near Dry Fork.

Wheatley said the Center installed the hydrant, which is fed by a a six-inch-line connected to a large pond.

A total of 28 volunteers from five area departments responded. Those included the 10 from South County, four from Alpena, another seven from Marble, four from Green Forest, and three from Berryville.

Wheatley also noted that his department's pumper truck used 60 gallons of gas transporting water to the blaze.

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