250 jobs go up in smoke as fire rips through plywood mill

250 jobs go up in smoke as fire rips through plywood mill »Play Video
People gathered Friday in the parking lot of the Swanson Group's Springfield Plywood and Veneer plant, where the fire continued to burn.

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - As a fire tore through a plywood mill Thursday, employees saw their jobs go up in smoke.

"A lot of jobs there," said Francisco Lopez, who had worked at the Springfield Plywood and Veneer plant for 2 years. "There was like 250 employees there."

Everyone got out OK, but the fire leaves livelihoods in ruins.

"Honestly, I'm just overwhelmed," Willy Sanchez said Thursday as he watched the mill where he has worked for 3 years burn. "I just can't believe this is happening right now. I just can't believe it - it's just too much."

Instead of reporting for work Friday morning, employees gathered in the parking lot and watched flames continue to flare up on the plant grounds.

"My wife has a job, so luckily, hopefully, unemployment will kick in and we'll be able to meet our bills," said Dana Dement, one of the employees who tried to fight the fire but evacuated as flames flooded the plant. 

The plywood plant employees aren't alone: state and local officials have already taken action to help.

"This is the first time in a long time that we've had an entire mill, a place of employment, completely wiped out," said Dan Egan, the Chamber of Commerce director.

Egan put out an email SOS on Friday to other mill owners.

"Maybe there's some opportunity for those folks who have no job today and might not have a job for quite some time to be picked up locally by the industry," he said.

State employment staff in Eugene said some millworkers have already dropped in to start the paperwork for unemployment.

WorkSource Lane said they're organizing a meeting for next week to reach out to workers and help them know their options.

Egan said they hope reports are true that the mill's owners plan to rebuild. Calls to the Swanson Group, which owns the plant, have not yet been returned.

But for Sanchez, the crisis is here and now.

"Three years. There it is," he said Thursday. "Three years down the drain. Now, look for a new job. How am I going to survive with my kid and my fiance?"