Bad timing for pellet mill fire

Dan Cline has a problem. The owner of Missoula's Hollywood Sheds, which also sells wood pellets, has plenty of Eureka Pellet Mills' least expensive pellets in stock. But he's been waiting about five weeks, he says, for the company to deliver the 100 tons of Eureka Elite pellets he ordered.

"I've got lots of [customers] who've been waiting," says Cline, who's not sure when the pellets will finally arrive. "[Eureka] has been putting me off."

The delay, which comes just as pellet stove owners are stocking up on fuel for the winter, can be blamed on a fire that destroyed Eureka's pellet mill in Superior on Oct. 16. Ernie Johnson, president of Missoula's Johnson Bros Contracting, the parent company of Eureka Pellet Mills, says at least half of the mill burned to the ground, including much of the indoor pellet-making equipment. There wasn't much fuel inside the mill at the time, but, Johnson says, "Once it gets going, it doesn't take much sawdust and fuel around to make a big fire."

The blaze left the company, which stocks retailers throughout the region, scrambling to meet demand by ramping up production at its mill in Eureka. Johnson says it will take another week or two to get back on track.

"We're not quite keeping up with it right now," he says, "but we have every intention by the middle of December of being able to make some more in Superior."

That would be good news for Superior, considering that the mill is one of the town's biggest employers. "It's rather devastating for the whole community, and we know in this tight economy that all jobs lost are very serious," Superior Mayor Michael Wood told the local Fox affiliate shortly after the fire.

The fire hasn't created a pellet emergency yet. Steve Weiler, the manager of Ace Hardware in the Trempers Shopping Center, says his store bought enough of the Eureka Premium pellets early in the season to keep customers stocked, at least for now. "We've got as many as anybody might want for a while," he says.

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