Fire Clean-up Underway at N.Y. Lumber Company

April 9, 2013
The Sunday morning fire destroyed much of the machinery and large portions of the building.

April 09--ADAMS -- The show has gone on at Berry Bros. Lumber Co., a day after a massive fire destroyed large portions of the company's building and much of its machinery.

Sitting in the company's office located at the center of the site, 9124 Route 11, brothers and co-owners Gary J. and Lee D. Berry said on Monday afternoon that they were overwhelmed with messages offering help and support.

"If that doesn't encourage you, probably much isn't going to," Gary Berry said.

The fire, which took place at about 5 a.m. Sunday, drew a response from crews across the southern portion of Jefferson County. In addition to the building damage, machinery -- such as a pair of grinders and a dryer used to make animal bedding -- was lost, along with five conveyor systems and two tractor-trailers.

About 30 hours after Sunday's fire, work was moving along, albeit at a reduced pace.

Over at the site's single working grinder, Darius R. Garmel, an employee who has been with the company for 12 years, worked with his son Matthew K. and Wayne B. Jones, who volunteered to help clean out debris so it could be used again.

"We're going to at least try to grind something," Mr. Garmel said. He said he felt sick when he learned the news Sunday, after working the day before.

"I left Saturday, and everything was fine," he said. "The owner looked it over and everything was fine ... then, boom."

On the other side of the site, Paul R. Shepherd, a friend of the Berry brothers, loaded burnt material into a truck for removal.

"They've been good to me, so I wanted to help out if I could," he said.

At about 1 p.m., many signs of the fire were still visible. Scorch marks on the conveyor belts and walls of the building clearly could be seen, and the mixture of water, dirt and bedding materials left the ground with an oatmeal-like consistency.

Both brothers said they hope to resume supplying customers with bedding by the end of this week, and that they had been in contact with most of their customers about keeping service going with few interruptions.

"We're in damage-control mode, but we're going to survive," Lee Berry said.

He said a return to full production could take a few months.

Lee Berry said that after five years of development, a process he described as "error and error," the company had made large jumps in acquiring customers within the last few months.

The new business led them to consider an expansion of the site and, before the fire, they had an appointment with an engineer set for today to discuss their options. The meeting now will be used to determine the building's viability.

Though Gary Berry initially had suggested the damage at the site amounted to $100,000 or more, Lee Berry on Monday estimated the damage could be three or four times that figure.

However, Lee Berry said that Sunday's fire was not as bad as one in June 2008 which destroyed the entire work site. While the brothers evaluated their interest in continuing the business after that fire, Lee Berry said, Sunday's fire did not affect their resolve.

"The commitment is there to continue," he said.

The business has been at the site since 1947, and the Berry family has been involved with logging work since the 1890s.

At about 1 p.m., Lee was meeting with Jay M. Matteson, Jefferson County Agricultural Coordinator, to discuss potential aid to help the company get back on its feet.

"We're very much concerned about making sure of anything we can do to help," Mr. Matteson said. "Their business is very important to the area around here."

A cause for the fire has not yet been determined.

On Monday afternoon, Jefferson County Director of Fire and Emergency Management Joseph D. Plummer said the fire still was under investigation.

Copyright 2013 - Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.

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