'Everyone was running. There was no walking out'

'Everyone was running. There was no walking out' »Play Video
Photo courtesy Steve Boulton

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - Springfield Plywood and Veneer employees are out of a job but say they have their quick thinking and a properly executed evacuation plan to thank for their lives after a fire tore through the plant Thursday.

"As soon as I saw the fire on top of the dryer I knew it was going to be a bad one, so i told all my guys we had to get out of the building," said Douglas Soy.

Employees showed up Friday at the Swanson Group mill to see the wreckage and talk about the experience they faced evacuating the mill. A security guard at the site said it was like attending a funeral Friday as employees paid their respects to the mill.

"You just get out to the nearest exit you can as fast as you can without running or getting hurt," Soy said. "It was pretty fast, so everyone was running. There was no walking out yesterday."

Tom DeHaven has worked in the wood products industry for 43 years, 23 of them at the mill in Springfield.

He said this is the moment they all prepare for.

"Safety is always a high priority, and that's one thing why we have primary and secondary evacuation zones," he said. "They did an outstanding job of getting everyone out. I was really pleased to hear everyone got out OK."

Some employees said the timing couldn't have been worse. One family bought a home just last month and are now without money to pay the mortgage.

For others, the fire may just be the end of the road for their careers.

"This may be the last place I work because I'm 60," DeHaven said. "I don't know if I'll ever be able to get another job, especially one that paid as much as this one."
 

Help for employees

The 250 plywood plant employees are out of a job, but state and local agencies are looking for ways 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.