April 07, 2020

West Enfield lumber operation closed

WEST ENFIELD – Except for maintenance and office staff, a Hammett Road lumber company devastated by fire several months ago has shut down, its owners said Monday.

“The inventory has been depleted, and we’re now looking at the options that we have to rebuild or discontinue,” said Fred Schult, one of the owners of Cold Stream Lumber Co. “These are the decisions that are being made at this time. We are together and determining now our direction.”

The company’s owners worked hard to keep Cold Stream going and keep as many workers on payroll as possible, but have finally run out of options.

As to whether the company will reopen or shut down permanently, “that decision certainly hasn’t been made yet,” he added. “Things are in flux at the moment. We would love to continue, that’s what we’re looking to do, but time will tell.”

The April 29 fire did an estimated $2 million in damage when it destroyed the company’s sawmill and some office space at 542 Hammett Road. Neighbors reported hearing loud explosions, possibly propane torches or other flammables, detonating in the heat. Firefighters from four towns stopped the fire before it hit adjoining buildings containing wood planing equipment and a kiln.

The fire forced Cold Stream to lay off most of its 50 workers. Thirteen hourly employees remained at work as of August, but the depletion of planing wood, exhaustion of the company’s planing contracts and inability to get other planing contract work forced the layoff of all the company’s planing workers, Schult said.

Another potential factor in the company’s ability to restart – the lack of a verdict on the cause of the fire from investigators. Those investigators are still working at it, Joe Thomas, assistant state fire marshal, said.

Investigators were examining electrical panels to see whether a short sparked the fire. The investigation has been painstaking and meticulous, he has said.

“I am certain that they are working very diligently at this point,” Schult said of investigators.

Insurance companies have been in constant contact with the company and have made an initial payment, but negotiations are ongoing, said Schult, who declined to discuss the talks in detail. Company officials have been pricing replacement equipment as well.

The town of Enfield took Cold Stream’s sawmill off its 2005-06 tax rolls to help the company recover from the fire, and state labor department staff have helped the laid-off workers in their search for new jobs. Local food pantries also have held special sessions with laid-off workers.

The deletion from tax rolls removes $400,000 to $500,000 in appraised value from the company’s property taxes and likely will save Cold Stream as much as $10,000 in tax bills, town officials have said.

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