Fire at Rutland Plywood Corporation affects hundreds

By Polly Lynn

Friday morning smoke could still be seen coming out of the Rutland Plywood building on Ripley Road in Rutland. A fire that broke Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 20, was thought to be contained but another broke out at a different location later that evening — a spark from the previous fire is thought to be the cause.

The Rutland Town Fire Department responded to the site of the Rutland Plywood Corporation again on Thursday morning, Aug. 21 at approximately 4:21 a.m. Other area departments were called in to assist, including Rutland City, West Rutland, Clarendon, Ira, Middletown Springs, Proctor, Pittsford, and Tinmouth. It was estimated that over 100 firefighters worked to contain the blaze. The fire was described as “fast moving” and the main building at the plant “90 percent engulfed” by the time the crews arrived Thursday.

Upon request by the Rutland Town Fire Department, detectives with the Vermont State Police Fire Investigation Unit as well as investigators from the Division of Fire Safety were requested to conduct an investigation. While investigations continued into this week, the origin of the fire was not considered suspicious at press time.

Rutland Plywood Corporation, a 57-year-old company, employed about 170 workers. All have been temporarily laid off and are being considered “displaced workers” under a federal labor law, Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan said Thursday.

Owner Jack Barrett has worked at Rutland Plywood for 43 years and has owned it for the last 10 years. He told state officials that gathered to meet with him Friday morning in Rutland that he has extensive fire insurance, but that the company was still waiting for insurance adjustors to determine the extent of the damage. State officials included Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding, and Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, as well as representatives from the Labor Department, the state Employee Assistance Program and Vermont Health Connect. They gathered at Rutland Plywood’s satellite office at 92 Park Street. Officials offered support to Barrett as well as to his employees, who were offered assistance signing up for unemployment and other benefits.

Barrett announced that he plans to hold weekly meetings at 10 a.m. Thursdays at the Park Street offices to keep his employees up-to-date on progress and future plans.

Barrett thanked state officials and local organizations for their generous support and aid. One such example was Green Mountain Credit Union, a not-for-profit financial institution in Rutland, which announced Friday that it would offer free financial counseling and a special loan program to employees and family impacted by the fire at Rutland Plywood.

“Precautionary boil” water notice

Due to what the City of Rutland referred to as “an extended negative water pressure situation,” the Rutland City Water Department issued a “precautionary boil” water notice for residents and businesses along Dorr Drive, Ripley Road, Campbell Road and Stoneridge Drive neighborhoods (west of Otter Creek) beginning on Thursday, Aug. 21. Red Cross volunteers with the organization’s Rutland-based Disaster Action Team distributed cases of water from their emergency response vehicle to residents on the streets affected.

The notice was lifted Monday, Aug. 25, after three consecutive sets of water samples showed no sign of system contamination, Jeff Wennberg, commissioner for the City of Rutland Department of Public Works reported in a release.

The notice “was instituted out of concern that the protracted low to negative pressure event Thursday [due to the Rutland Plywood fire] might have resulted in contaminants being drawn into the system. At no time did the department have evidence that the water system was contaminated, but events like that one can result in contaminated pipes,” Wennberg continued. “This has been an inconvenience for many people and some businesses and their cooperation and patience are greatly appreciated. Thanks are also offered to the American Red Cross for quickly making bottled water available to affected families.”

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