Editorial: Recovery from mill fire requires everyone

Published 8:03 am Thursday, May 31, 2012

Recovery from mill fire requires everyone

The response Monday and Tuesday to the Verso Paper mill explosion and fire also charts the path to recovery.

At least 14 area fire departments, several local and state law-enforcement agencies, the Red Cross and many others responded immediately to save lives and battle the blaze. Many continued that battle well into Tuesday.

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Also, by Tuesday morning, Sartell Mayor Joe Perske had received offers of help from Sauk Rapids Mayor Dave Saunders and St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis. John Kramer, CEO of the Greater St. Cloud Development Corp., also reached out. And before noon Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton and area legislators were planning a visit.

Such a solid and wide-ranging show of support is exactly what will be needed to help Verso, Sartell and all of central Minnesota overcome this tragedy.

First, though, the focus must be on safely extinguishing the fire in a warehouse area of the landmark mill.

Community support and prayers also must go to the family of Jon Michael Maus of Albany, the Verso employee who died in the Memorial Day explosion. Maus, 50, is survived by his wife Lucy and four children. Four other Verso employees were injured. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers, along with all emergency workers who helped since Monday.

Yet even amid all these challenges and monumental losses, it’s encouraging to see a spirit of teamwork and togetherness quickly emerge with respect to the long-term future of the mill.

The tragedy that has hit the iconic mill along the Mississippi brings to mind the dark days of early January in 2002, when the city of St. Cloud learned Fingerhut would close its doors, potentially eliminating 2,670 jobs.

Although the closure was devastating, help and support offered from other communities, the state and a myriad of public and private groups certainly helped St. Cloud in tackling a challenge few probably saw coming.

While the fire is not a replication of that scenario, the fact that Verso had eliminated 175 jobs and mothballed parts of the facility last year raises the obvious — and daunting — question of what’s next for the damaged mill.

Clearly, Verso leaders will be the people who make that decision. All of central Minnesota, though, can send them a strong message about community support in the coming weeks by rallying together to stand ready to help as needed.

Just as it is taking more than 14 fire crews to extinguish this devastating Sartell blaze, it will take more than that one community to help keep the mill operating for another 100-plus years.

— St. Cloud Times, May 29

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