Hazlehurst lumberyard burns on; economic damage enormous

HAZLEHURST, GA (WALB) - The Hazlehurst Fire Department is battling a major fire at the Thompson Hardwoods lumberyard on the Baxley Highway in Hazlehurst.

The fire started around 7:30 this morning at the huge wood processing facility, which provides wood for many manufacturers, and is among the largest in the nation.

Jeff Davis County Sheriff Preston Bohannon tells WALB that the fire started when a load of lumber was pulled out of a drying kiln, which dries out the boards for shipment.

He said the wind spread embers from that load to other lumber in the warehouse where the kiln is located. All the lumber in the warehouse burned, as did the warehouse, and the office.

The fire the spread to other stacks of lumber out of the ground, and then from one to another.

Sheriff Bohannon says the Georgia Forestry Commission is sending a helicopter from Macon, 70 miles away, to scoop water from a nearby reservoir to dump on the blaze.

"Crews tried a direct attack at first, but had to back out because there was just too much, too much heat," said Hazlehurst Fire Chief Charles Wasdin. "Nothing in there but fire load full of lumber."

The heat was so extreme, metal parts of the building melted from the extreme temperatures. Some firefighters had to go to the local emergency room because of  overheating. They are expected to be ok.

The lumberyard employees about 350 people at this location, but they do have another location in the city.

Chief Wasdin estimates the fire is 65 percent contained. He believes they've saved the saw mill portion of the complex, but the office building is the biggest part lost.

Crews are expected to be on scene for another 24 hours.

Thompson Hardwoods started in 1957, and is a subsidiary of Beasley Hardwood Products, one of the largest production hardwood sawmills in the United States, producing over 100 million board feet of lumber per year.

WTOC's Dal Cannady contributed to this report

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