Mill fire more nuisance than threat

A late-night August 10 fire at Swift Lumber Mill turned out to be little more than a 90-minute nuisance for mill officials.

Occasional puffs of smoke emanated from a metal hopper that held pulp and sawdust (not wood chips as initially reported) but no significant ignition ever occurred. The smell of burnt or burning wood was prominent for several minutes after the arrival of firefighters, but no further flames erupted.

Firefighters from Atmore arrived at the Swift Mill Road site at 9:24 p.m., and a unit from Poarch was on the scene a few minutes later. The last crew left the site around 11 p.m.

“What fire there was, was out when we got there,” Atmore Fire Chief Ron Peebles said from the scene. Peebles said the minor fire was apparently fueled by a spark that traveled through one of the mill’s blower tubes and landed in a storage bin across the road from Swift’s main production facility.

Capt. Daniel Love, who serves as AFD’s assistant chief, confirmed Monday that the incident turned out to be a minor one. He said the hopper was opened from the bottom, allowing the smoldering wood products to fall to the ground.

“There was no real damage,” confirmed Love. “There was some sawdust, but mostly pulp, in the hopper. We sprayed it with a fog stream as it fell, then flushed it with water when it hit the ground,” he said.

While the fire-fighting team worked on the south side of Swift Mill Road, production continued at a normal pace in the main mill yard on the north side. Shortly after firefighters cleared the scene, Swift’s regular routine resumed.

The incident marked the second time within eight-plus months that a significant fire-suppression effort was launched at Swift Lumber Mill. A November 2016 fire that caused significant damage to the mill’s saw-filing room and its carriage-band saw head rig drew a response from AFD, Poarch, Nokomis and Walnut Hill firefighters.