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One year after fire Muth looks to rebuild

After the devastating fire one year ago today that caused about $1.4 million in damages, Muth Lumber Company owners hope a construction project will make the plant more productive than ever.

"We are in the midst of rebuilding," Dick Muth said. "We are just now getting things put back together.

We are going to redesign to make the plant safer and more suited to our needs."

The company plans to make about $2 million in renovations and repairs to the lumber mill. The Muths expect to create a minimum of 20 additional jobs and double production once the project is complete.

Work has already begun on some phases, and almost all of the work will be privately financed, he said.

Much of the project is to replace the building lost in the fire. Improvements include a new kiln area, a wood shop, maintenance shed and storage building. The kiln shop and storage shed should both be completed by the end of the year, Muth said.

According to the state fire marshal and the insurance company, the Sept. 23, 2001 fire was started by a hot ember getting into the wood shop. It destroyed a 32,000 square-foot building that housed the maintenance shed and workshop, Dick Muth said.

Dick and Tim Muth, the fourth generation of Muths to run the family business, moved the plant from Kenova, W.Va. to Ironton in 1987.

"Our family has been in this business since the 1880s. When we had the fire, we did a lot of soul searching on whether we should just sell it," he said.

"But, you look around and you see a lot of real good people who have been with our family for years.

"We look at them more like family than employees. There are a lot of emotional ties. These people depend on us and we depend on them."

Overall, the entire project will create a minimum of 20 new jobs within 18 months of its completion. Hopefully, it will actually add a total of 30 positions within a 3-year period, Muth said.

Some of the positions that will be added include machine operators, forklift operators, kiln operators, lumber handlers and lumber graders, he said.

The business is applying for state assistance for only about $400,000 of the total project. If received, these funds will be used toward the purchase of an $800,000 lumber separator that could conceivably double the plant's productivity and efficiency, he said.

Last week, the Ironton City Council approved a resolution authorizing Ralph Kline, community development director for the Lawrence County Community Action Organization, to apply for Economic Development funds from the Community Development Block Grants program.

The application is for a $310,000 low-interest loan from the Community Development Block Grant program along with $100,000 from the Revolving Loan Fund. Kline said last week he expects a response from the state within 30 days.

Despite being out of business for two months because of the fire, the plant workers only missed about a week of work.

The company has developed an international clientele.

About 40 percent of its product leaves the country, as they sell to every continent except for Australia and Antarctica.

Muth said they have to do this to keep up with the global market.

"In life there are only two ways -- either you are moving forward or backward. There is no such thing as status quo," he said. "If you just sit still, you are actually losing ground because your competitors are moving forward." Michael Caldwell/The Ironton Tribune