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Durgin and Crowell Lumber Co. Considers What to Do After Mill Destroyed in Fire

  • Dave Wheeler, of Acadia Insurance, in white coat and helmet, examines damage with Dugin and Crowell Lumber Co. officials Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, from a fire that burned in a 210,000-square-foot planer mill building in Springfield, N.H., Wednesday night. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A log truck passes stacked lumber at Dugin and Crowell Lumber Co. in Springfield, N.H., Thursday, Jan. 4, 2017. A fire in the company's planer mill, not pictured, burned Wednesday, night, but other operations continued Thursday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Stacked lumber sits Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, across Fisher Corner Road from the Durgin and Crowell Lumber Co. planer mill that burned Wednesday night in Springfield, N.H. The company's office building, at right, was not damaged. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, January 04, 2018

Springfield, n.h. — The owners of a major Upper Valley lumber mill are assessing how to move forward after a four-alarm fire destroyed their massive planer mill, a key piece of infrastructure at the family-run business off Interstate 89 in Springfield.

“As devastating a loss as this is, we are looking forward,” Durgin and Crowell Lumber Co. wrote on its Facebook page on Thursday. “Our current focus is to keep our sawmill running and protect our greatest asset, our employees.”

Firefighters from about 20 towns began responding to 231 Fisher Corner Road around 7 p.m. on Wednesday night and took turns battling the blaze for more than 12 hours.

No one was injured.

Springfield Fire Chief Peter Lacaillade said the amount of combustibles inside the roughly 230,000-square-foot planer mill complicated matters. In addition to all of the wood inside, there were fork lifts, tractor-trailer trucks and other fuel sources, the chief said.

“The fire basically worked from one end of the building to the other,” Lacaillade said.

Because of the dangers involved, crews had to fight the fire from the exterior of the building.

“It was basically ‘surround and drown,’ ” the chief said.

The frigid temperatures didn’t help matters, he noted.

The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined, but it is not considered suspicious, he said. The company has insurance.

Messages left for owners Peter and Ben Crowell weren’t returned on Thursday. The planer mill itself is assessed at $1.8 million, according to town records.

Wednesday night’s fire was the second fire to plague the business this week. On Tuesday, the Springfield Fire Department and crews from surrounding towns responded to a pellet dryer fire in a different building on the property, the chief said.

The chief attributed that fire to the cold weather, saying machinery used in the pellet-making process malfunctioned and caught product — sawdust — on fire. There was some damage, but the chief said he believes that portion of the pellet operation is back online.

In 2016, fire crews responded and quickly extinguished a fire that started when a conveyor motor caught fire and spread to a belt line and silo. That fire too was in a different building than the other two, Lacaillade said.

The chief said his department receives periodic fire alarm activations at Durgin and Crowell, but he said they usually turn out to be nothing.

Durgin and Crowell isn’t the first lumber company in the Upper Valley to suffer a major fire in recent years. A March 2015 fire at Britton Lumber Co. in Fairlee destroyed its sawmill, and the company recently bought a lumber mill in Bath, N.H., rather than rebuild the lost portion of its business in Fairlee, where it still has other operations.

Durgin and Crowell manufactures kiln-dried eastern white pine lumber and produces about 30 million board feet annually in Springfield, according to its website.

The company, which is owned by the Crowell brothers and was founded in 1976, employs about 100 people. The fire chief said he believes about 20 people worked inside the planer mill.

Springfield Deputy Town Clerk Pixie Hill called the loss of the planer mill “devastating” for the community and beyond. Durgin and Crowell works with companies in the Upper Valley and throughout the United States and in Canada.

The fire, Hill said, will have “a huge trickle-down effect for the local economy.”

Durgin and Crowell works with many companies in different capacities. Claremont-based Davis Frame Company, a custom timber frame business, said it uses Durgin and Crowell’s eastern white pine in its construction packages.

“For us, we do exposed wood and beam and their product really makes our timbers pop,” said Davis Frame Company Marketing Director Molly DeLuca, who called Durgin and Crowell’s pine “superior” to most others on the market.

“We are very saddened to hear (of the fire),” she said.

Other vendors and customers from around the country also wished the company well on its Facebook page.

Despite the circumstances, DeLuca said she is optimistic that the impact on Davis Frame will be minimal. If there is a material shortage, Davis Frame may have to switch to an alternative supplier in the interim, but “we would no doubt work with them again.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.