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Former Seattle-Snohomish Mill burns:
No firefighters injured, building likely a total loss



Doug Ramsay photo

A firefighter keeps an eye for any spreading fire as flames race through the former Seattle-Snohomish lumber mill in Snohomish. Fire
crews worked to fight the fire early Wednesday, Aug. 28. In the top right, a Fire District 7 ladder truck sprays water down onto the roof.



SNOHOMISH — A two-alarm fire tore through the former
Seattle-Snohomish Mill across the river from First Street on Wednesday, Aug. 28.
The site is at 9525 Airport Way.
Crews were called to the scene at 12:45 a.m. and found the mill building being used as storage for mattresses fully involved in fire, a public information officer said. It was under control by 1:30 a.m.
It is not known why the fire started. The county fire marshal’s office is investigating, and will need time to render a determination.
It was also not known at press time if anyone remains inside.
Fire crews could be tamping down smoldering spots for days, Fire District 4 Battalion Chief Jason Hodkinson said.
No firefighters were injured, Getchell Fire Assistant Chief Jeremy Stocker said, acting as on-site public information officer.
Stocker described the building as a likely total loss.
No pollution or fire wash entered the river, from what surveyors for the state Department of Ecology saw. A flood berm that separates the mill site from the river held up, and “we checked the outfall of the site’s stormwater drainage system, and saw no signs of pollution entering the river,” Ecology regional spokesman Larry Altose said.
Air quality post-fire was safe for all populations including sensitive groups such as children and those with breathing difficulties, according to an average of monitors located in surrounding areas of Monroe, Mill Creek and Marysville, said Joel Creswell, an air resource specialist at the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. The agency has no monitors placed in the city of Snohomish.
Onlookers hurried to the scene; many thought First Street was on fire. The fire was visible from near Snohomish High School, witness Andrew Thompson said.
“It was insane,” Thompson said, standing with his friends.
Tony Emery watched from the railing at Kla Ha Ya Park and called the scene “sad.”
Emery worked at this mill for five years, but got out before it shut down. His sons called him down to see.
He thinks the lumber was cleared out before it shut down, but with the sawdust and remnants, “it’s like a giant Presto log,” Emery said.


The fire was largely contained to the main lumber processing building.
Emery explained that the bark stripping machines were in the eastern part of this building, the splitting work was in the middle and gang saws were toward the west. Emery said the western edge of the building held completed lumber to be taken away by forklift, which was where an open air area is.
Lately, a used mattress recycler is leasing the site on a month-to-month basis as a holding spot. The recycler “sorts, separates and prepares for the transport of mattress materials to various recycling facilities to process them to their end life,” a spokesman for the mill owners, Josh Estes, wrote in a statement given to media. Before the mattresses began coming, an RV seller was leasing the site to store recent-model recreational vehicles.
Witnesses who said they got there near the beginning said the fire spread from east to west, which if true suggests the fire started toward the rail bridge. Bright green flashes were seen from the center of the building during the fire, which a Tribune reporter verified in an eyewitness photo.
Plumes of black smoke were prominent in the early stages of the fire, witness Keaton Sidell said.
Sidell came down out of curiosity when he saw the smoke. His friend Bryson Schurman rushed over from Lynnwood to see. The flames were also visible from the Old Snohomish-Monroe Road coming into town.
The mattresses created “a heavy fire load” which firefighters couldn’t get close to, Stocker, the fire site PIO, said.
Heat radiated from the fire, Hodkinson mentioned. He was not the battalion chief on duty when the call went out, but took over the shift in the morning.
Estes, the spokesman for the mill owners, wrote that no authorized personnel were on the site at the time of the blaze.
The statement opened: “We are thankful that no one was injured during this incident and we are grateful to the Snohomish County Firefighters who brought the fire under control and prevented it from spreading to any of the other structures on the site.”
The former Seattle-Snohomish Mill operated for 75 years before oversupply in the market led to its closure in the summer of 2015, leaving 68 people jobless.
In its heyday, it employed more than 200 people.
The riverside seems like prime real estate, but selling the huge site to a buyer faces a significant environmental hurdle. The 33.7 acres of riverfront property is in a designated floodplain, limiting what can be built there. It’s county land across the river from downtown Snohomish that is part of the city’s southern urban growth area.
Because it’s in a FEMA-designated floodplain, changing the development regulations would invoke requiring state and federal government approvals, the head of the county planning department wrote in a January 2017 letter.
The Waltz family’s story is interwoven into the mill’s history, as owner Megan McMurray’s grandfather Robert Waltz Sr. joined with his father-in-law who owned the mill to become a business partner. Robert Waltz Sr.’s son, Bob Waltz, was the mill’s established president for more than 20 years. McMurray took over the reins from the younger Waltz in late 2011.
Fourteen firefighting vehicles responded to last week’s fire. Agencies that came were Fire District 4, South County Fire, Everett Fire, Getchell Fire, Lake Stevens Fire and Snohomish County Fire District 7.
A previous fire in September 2017 burned through a building at the mill site.

Jana Alexander Hill contributed reporting.
Tribune archive materials were included in this story.

Michael Whitney photo

The mattresses stacked at the main building of the former Seattle-Snohomish Mill in July.

  

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