Building catches fire at Alamco Wood Products

Published 9:48 pm Monday, April 12, 2010

A building used for drying wood caught fire Monday night at Alamco Wood Products on the south edge of Albert Lea.

Alamco General Manager John Forman said the 40-by-80-foot building, which is on the north end of the company’s plant, received “substantial damage.”

There were no injuries.

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Forman, who was at home watching the Albert Lea City Council meeting when he was notified about the fire, said some of the company’s second-shift employees came outside for their supper break at 8:25 p.m. when they smelled smoke and saw the fire.

The fire was contained to the single building, where there was a wood furnace, stored wood and a tractor.

Forman said he was unsure Monday night the estimated value of the loss.

“We’ll be able to tell a lot more in the daylight,” he said.

Forman said the tractor and wood burner are still intact, but he was unsure if they were damaged. The roof will definitely need to be replaced, he noted.

When the call of the fire came into authorities, all Albert Lea Fire Department units responded.

One by one, sirens on the fire trucks went off from the fire station at Albert Lea City Hall, clearly heard during the latter part of the City Council meeting.

Firefighters put out the initial flames quickly, but the roof continued to smolder.

Albert Lea Fire Chief Paul Stieler said Monday night the fire is still under investigation.

Fire crews were taking pictures of the scene and planned to go back Tuesday morning for further investigation, he said. The building is wood-lined on the interior with metal siding on the exterior.

Stieler did not identify a cause of the fire.

Forman first speculated a wood burner caught fire, but an hour and a half later, he noted he wasn’t sure of a cause. He said the wood the company purchases comes dried, but Alamco sometimes needs to dry it even more.

Fire trucks were able to work closely to the burned building because of accessible hydrants near the plant.

Stieler noted how much easier it is to fight fires for businesses that have hydrants near their plants — like Alamco does. Stieler said there are a number of businesses in town that have hydrants around their buildings, as it is now required by code.

“If you had to string a line all the way from the highway here, that’d be tough,” Stieler said.

Forman said the plant at one time even had its own water tower.

Alamco Wood Products is owned by New Brighton-based Bell Lumber & Pole. The first wood-laminating plant was built in Albert Lea in 1939 by the Rock Island Lumber Co., or RILCO. It built at the present Ninth Street site in 1954. RILCO became a division of Weyerhaeuser in 1960.

Weyerhaeuser in the early 1980s began to divest its wood-processing operations. In 1982, it closed the plant. Ten former salaried Weyerhauser employees purchased and reopened the plant later that year.

Bell purchased Alamco Wood Products in May 2009. The two companies already had a working relationship prior to the sale.