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Mill undergoing repairs after fire

BENNINGTON — The Monadnock Paper Mills in Bennington is expecting to be back in business Monday, after a major electrical fire last week knocked out power to the entire building.

A three-alarm electrical fire was reported early Wednesday morning in what Bennington Fire Chief Mike Roina said was the most significant fire in Bennington in his 13 years with the department. While the fire was contained to the electrical room in the basement of the building, the damage knocked out power to the entire operation. The building had been scheduled to shut down operations later that afternoon to complete a regular summer maintenance, and the mill had intended to start up again by mid-July. The mill’s management hoped to be able to still start on schedule after the affects of the fire, according to Joe Fletcher, the vice president of human resources at Monadnock Paper Mills, in an interview following the fire on Wednesday.

As of Monday, repairs are underway to the electrical system, and the management team believes that the mill will be up and running on its normal schedule again by July 15, which is when the mill would normally be completing their summer shutdown, according to Monadnock Paper Mills owner Richard Verney.

In an interview Monday, Roina said that the fire was no longer under investigation, but the initial cause of the fire was still considered undetermined, and electrical in nature.

Verney said in an interview Monday that the cost of repairs is still unknown, but that the repairs were underway and parts of the mill were once again operational with generators, though much of the mill was still without power.

“We have some temporary power feeds that are providing us the ability to ship to our customers, wrap finished products, and get our computers and phones back up. We’re making good progress from where we were last Wednesday at three in the morning,” said Joe Fletcher, the vice president of human resources at the mill.

The mill’s management was back in the building for the first time on Monday, Verney said.

“It’s a work in progress,” Verney said, “But the bottom line is that we do expect to be up and running by the 15th. That’s the good news, and the other good news is that no one was hurt.”

Usually during the mill’s annual shutdown, there is regular maintenance work done on the large equipment that makes the mill run. With limited power, much of that work hasn’t been able to be finished, Verney said. Fletcher said there are a number of jobs, including boiler maintenance and chimney work, that the mill has been able to work on as scheduled, and the rest will be taken care of throughout the coming year.

“They’re not critical and won’t prevent us from servicing our customers,” Fletcher said of the remaining maintenance.

The majority of mill employees were not expected to work during the mill’s scheduled shut down, said Fletcher. There were a small number of employees expected to assist with maintenance work this week whose hours may be affected as a result of the fire, Fletcher said. However, if power can be restored in time to continue that work later this week, some of that time may be salvaged, he added.

“They are going to, more than likely, not be able to work, but that’s subject to the repairs being done here, so it’s difficult to say at this point what the length of the impact on the employees will be,” Fletcher said. Fletcher said he does not anticipate any delays with customers or supply chain managers as a result of the fire.

“Our focus now is to get up and running,” Fletcher said. “We have a number of contractors that are here helping our internal folks with repairs.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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