WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wisconsin (From news reports) -- The cause of a fire last week at the idled Verso paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids is still under investigation, but company leaders say they do not anticipate it will affect "any future plans or options for the mill."
Shawn Hall, Verso's director of communications, said the costs to repair the fire damage at the mill are "manageable," although she did not provide a dollar amount.
The fire also doesn't change the Consolidated Cooperative's interest in purchasing and operating the mill. The group, which includes timber professionals, community members and millworkers, is in conversations with Verso and is waiting to learn more about the damage caused by the fire, said Dennis Schoeneck, president of the Timber Professionals Cooperative.
"We're not planning on stopping our pursuit," Schoeneck said.
Todd Eckes, deputy chief/fire marshal with the Wisconsin Rapids Fire Department, said Tuesday morning the department still is investigating the cause of the fire. Eckes said it could take anywhere from a few more days to a couple of weeks to determine the cause.
On May 25, about 60 local firefighters responded to a fire at Verso's paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids. Eckes said in a release last week a fiberglass stack that was part of the idled hardwood digester at the mill caught fire. The stack collapsed due to fire and heat and started fires in and around the digester tower.
While the official cause is still undetermined, a spokesperson for Verso told the Daily Tribune May 26 the mill "appears to have been struck by lightning."
Verso has owned the paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids since 2014 when it bought it from NewPage. Verso announced in June 2020 it would indefinitely idle its paper mills in Wisconsin Rapids and Duluth, Minnesota, and about 900 employees at the Rapids mill lost their jobs in phases by the end of last year.
Verso said the decision to idle the plant stemmed from a decline in demand for graphic paper due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was "exploring viable and sustainable alternatives" for both mills, including restarting them if the market conditions improved, selling the mills or closing them permanently.