Phillips Bark resumes operations following fire

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, May 25, 2011

After the heavy, dark smoke clouds loomed over Phillips BarkProcessing Company on County Farm Road Monday evening, brighterdays appear to be in the plant’s future.

The processing company is recovering from a fire that occurredaround 6 p.m. Monday and was not extinguished until met with theefforts of all eight of the Lincoln County volunteer firedepartments, Brookhaven Fire Department and several firedepartments from the surrounding areas. The blaze was finally putout around 2 a.m. Tuesday.

“I’ve been around mills a long time; I’ve never seen anythinglike it.” said Rickey Bessonette, Phillips Bark maintenance man ofmore than 20 years, about Monday’s fire.

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On Tuesday, BFD firefighters worked to extinguish any hotspotsand company employees began to develop a plan of action forcleaning up the ashy mess left from Monday’s fire.

Sheriff Steve Rushing said the cause of the fire is still underinvestigation.

“It may be another day or so before we finish it all up,” saidRushing.

Although the area had just been cooled from Monday’s heat, theplant was up and operating Tuesday.

Company president David Phillips said a truck was waiting tohaul off a load of bark at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. Phillips said thebulk wood chip product represents 40 percent of the company’sbusiness.

“Life is very evident at the Phillips Bark plant as employeescontinue to produce product and satisfy the demand of their retailand wholesale clients,” said Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber ofCommerce Executive Vice President Cliff Brumfield.

While the bark plant is still sprouting product and working tomeet the needs of their clients, the company did not totally escapethe heat of the flames.

Phillips previously estimated that it would take about eightweeks for the company to be fully operational, as damage was doneto the package bag storage building, the maintenance building andseveral areas around the plant.

However, due to the efforts of area firefighters the company’scoloring machine and processing building were saved.

“We’re very fortunate that losses to Phillips Bark werecontained,” said Brumfield. “Their industry is an integral part ofour local economy.”

Brumfield added that the company’s economic role extends pastsales tax numbers. He said as its business attracts out of townvisitors, they help support other commerce through whatevershopping customers may accomplish while in town.

He also added that several other businesses may depend onPhillips Bark, as they produce various types of mulch and soil.

“The fact that they process one of Southwest Mississippi’sstrongest resources makes them part of a necessary productionchain,” said Brumfield.

While the official cause of the fire is still underinvestigation, plant officials think the blaze began in a welllocated between the package bag storage and maintenancebuildings.

Bessonette said he smelled smoke while working in a nearbylocation. When he spotted the fire he attempted to extinguish theflames with a hose, but because the fire had destroyed the waterpump, the hose was not functional.

He then immediately called 911 before moving forklifts and otherequipment out of a nearby building.