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100 firefighters battle lumber company blaze that was visible from several miles away

About 100 firefighters fought a blaze Wednesday that caused an estimated $2 million to $3 million damage to a city lumber company. The fire could be seen for several miles.

Firefighters were called to the scene of R.A. Miller Hardwood, 35 Industrial Drive, at 3:15 p.m. for a fire that appeared to have started in a kiln, Fire Chief Greg Frank said.

The company's 50 workers were getting ready to end their shifts when the fire broke out, said James Gale, company comptroller.

"Nobody really works in the buildings that were on fire" in the complex, Gale said.

"I have no idea how it started," he said. "We know where it started, in the kiln, but what happened, I don't know."

Workers were able to escape unharmed while firefighters started arriving on the scene.

As they arrived, flames were shooting up to 90 feet in the air.

Frank said the fact the fire was called in just before shifts changed at 4:30 p.m. probably helped to bring in more firefighters. He said he called in help from the St. Johnsburg, Adams, Frontier and Wheatfield volunteer fire departments, as well as members of the City of Tonawanda Fire Department.

A North Tonawanda firefighter with chest pains was taken by Twin City Ambulance to DeGraff Memorial Hospital, Paramedic Jeff Abbott said.

Neither Gale nor Frank would give a specific damage estimate Wednesday evening but said the loss was substantial.

"There's a lot of product," Frank said. "A lot of money."

The cause remained under investigation Wednesday night.

Gale said the company -- owned by Robert L. and Christopher A. Miller and Elizabeth Barnett -- is insured. He said it lost two kilns, a boiler room and a pre-dryer/storage building.

According to the company Web site, R.A. Miller is a family owned and operated wholesale hardwood lumber facility. The warehouses inventory about 1 million board-feet of kiln-dried Northern and Allegheny hardwoods.

The site also states there are more than 600,000 board-feet in the kilns.

According to the North Tonawanda History Museum Web site, R. A. Miller Hardwood was established in 1915 as Miller Lumber on Eagle Street in Buffalo. The company moved to its current location in 1970.

e-mail: pkowalik@buffnews.com

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