Conveyor Belt Cause of WA Mill Fire

Monday, March 13, 2017 @ 12:03 PM gHale

A slipped belt which caused friction resulted in a fire that burned through a conveyor belt Thursday at the nearly dormant Nippon Paper Industries USA mill in Port Angeles, WA.

Mill employees reported the fire near the top of the mill’s cogeneration plant at 7 p.m. Thursday, Port Angeles Fire Department Capt. James Mason said Friday.

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There were no injuries in the incident, officials said.

“The monetary damage is negligible,” mill manager Steve Johnson said Friday.

Johnson said the cogeneration plant went offline Thursday night, and operation was to resume Saturday morning after workers repaired the belt.

“We are finalizing our investigation, but the preliminary cause appears to be friction-generated heat caused by belt slipping on the drive pulley,” he said.

The fire department got the call after smoke became visible from the top of the conveyor belt that moves biomass cogeneration boiler fuel to the conical silo at the plant.

The fire department responded with an engine and a 100-foot aerial ladder truck, Mason said.

The fire ended up extinguished with pressurized water containers and a fire extinguisher.

The paper mill, which had employed 105 hourly workers, shut down Jan. 21, but a skeleton maintenance crew is on duty and the cogeneration plant, which produces steam for the mill and electricity for sale, is still in operation.

The mill will close completely at the end of March while its new owner, McKinley Paper Co., a U.S. subsidiary of Mexico-based Bio Pappel, retrofits the facility.

Herb Baez, McKinley’s vice president of operations, said the mill’s cogeneration plant will restart when the mill retools and begins manufacturing recycled containerboard.

The plant, owned by Nippon Paper Industries of Tokyo, produced lightweight paper, newspaper stock and telephone-book paper.

Baez said that once the mill shuts down completely, it may not start up again until spring 2018.

Earlier estimates had put the shutdown at six months to a year.

“It’s looking like it will probably be at least a year,” Baez said, adding a study is underway on the cost of retrofitting the plant.

The plant had two operating paper machines until one shut down in December 2014.

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