L-P Plant to Re-open Following Fatal Fire

Oct. 14, 1999
A Louisiana-Pacific plant in Colorado will resume operations once an investigation is completed regarding an Oct. 3 fire and explosion that killed a worker and injured another.

A Louisiana-Pacific (L-P) plant in Colorado will resume operations once an investigation is completed regarding an Oct. 3 fire and explosion that killed a worker and injured another.

A preliminary analysis by the company revealed the damage caused by the fire at the structural panels facility in Olathe was significantly less than first reported. Still, it resulted in the death of Gary Thornton, 53, who was found near the area where the explosion took place. Eugene Gabriel, 43, was treated for smoke inhalation at a local hospital and released the next day, company spokesman Rick Barrilleaux said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident, which happened during a scheduled cleanup and maintenance on a Sunday. Fourteen employees were at the plant during the incident. About 45 workers would be on site during regular production.

Louisiana-Pacific began its investigation two days after the accident and once the Montrose County Sheriff's Department and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation released the site to the company.

"Our inspection teams are focused on two fronts: determining the cause of the fire and evaluating the amount of resulting damage," said Jim Lake, L-P regional operations manager. "This is a slow, systematic process. We have experts closely examining affected areas and the entire plant to ensure the safety of each employee at the mill."

Ensuring worker safety also will be a factor in determining when the facility will resume production, Barrilleaux said, adding that community and employee support were big factors in the company deciding to re-open the plant.

"Employees have done an exceptional job of coming together as a team to work through this tragic time," said Clint Shilts, L-P plant manager at the Olathe facility. "Although we are aiming for a start-up date next month, the safety of our employees and the surrounding communities remains a top priority."

A small fire broke out near a machine used to press together wood. The fire was put out by plant workers, who continued to work. An explosion about a half-hour later occurred on the second story of the facility.

During production down time, a majority of the mill employees have returned to work to aid in rebuilding areas released by the investigation team and in cleanup efforts. Repairs are expected to require the assistance of several outside contractors. No layoffs are expected.

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