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Fire won't keep Miller Hardwood down

R.A. Miller Hardwood is back in business, despite a spectacular fire last week that took more than 100 firefighters to put out and caused nearly $4 million damage, Kevin Barnett, one of the company's owners, said Tuesday.

"The company will rebuild," Barnett said of the family-owned business.

"We are not out of business, and we were not burned to the ground, as one report said," Barnett said. He said of the seven kilns, two were destroyed and four were damaged, and both boilers and a pre-dryer building, which in total occupied four buildings out of eight on the property, were destroyed.

He said the hourly staff was instructed not to report for two days following the fire because fire inspectors would not allow them in, but once they were given the all-clear signal, everyone was asked to return Monday.

Barnett said everyone was paid for the days they were off because "it was the right thing to do." He also said, "We haven't laid anyone off and don't plan to."

"We were limping along on Monday. We are confused, too, but everyone will be working. We are making deliveries, and the mill is operating. What was stored in the shed and already dried is ready to go and unaffected," Barnett said.

North Tonawanda was once known as "The Lumber City" because it was filled with numerous lumber yards all along the river, but that's not the case now. Barnett said the Miller plant is the only plant in the area that still kiln-dries fresh green wood on site. The plant has been on Industrial Drive, off River Road, since the 1970s.

"Our main problem is the boiler or boilers," he added. "We can't run without a heat source. Fortunately, we have good relations with our neighbors [a few hours away] who have donated the use of kilns for our green or wet inventory. We can also bring in dried wood and still fill orders."

He said inspectors have said the fire was accidental and was likely started by an electrical motor.

"We have insurance, and it is replacement insurance. We are guessing that each kiln will cost about one quarter of a million dollars to replace and the pre-dryer at least that much," he said. "We plan to start clearing things out tomorrow and get quotes on two kilns and a boiler room. We hope to be back up by the spring."

Barnett and his wife, Elizabeth, a member of the Miller family, co-own the plant with Robert L. and Christopher A. Miller.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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