Western Excelsior fire traced to faulty fan

Thursday, May 11, 2017 12:39 PM
Rain helped put out some hot spots Tuesday at the Western Excelsior plant in Mancos.

The investigation into the cause of the Western Excelsior fire points to a faulty ventilation fan in a sharpening shop.

Mancos Fire Chief Tony Aspromonte said that current burn evidence indicates a spark or heat from the fan’s motor as the probable point of origin for the fire.

“It appears that it started in a void of the ceiling, where it had time to build up heat and momentum,” he said.

The fire triggered an alarm, and Western Excelsior staff attempted to douse the blaze with extinguishers and a water hose stationed nearby for emergencies, but it had already grown too large.

All employees were evacuated safely, and no inuries were reported. About 10 fire departments responded to the blaze, Aspromonte said, which was fueled by stacks of rolled erosion mats made from aspen shavings, called excelsior.

Several nearby residents were temporarily evacuated Monday, and the fire continued to smolder into Tuesday.

The large mill did not have a fire-sprinkler system, and the facility was not required to have fire inspections because the town of Mancos has not adopted a fire code, Aspromonte said.

The mill facility is partly within Mancos Town limits and partly within Montezuma County. Neither government has fire inspectors, county and Mancos officials said.

Aspromonte said the all-volunteer Mancos Fire Department is tasked to fighting fires and responding to emergencies, and is not equipped for fire inspections. The department does not have the budget for a program.

“I’m not opposed to the town establishing fire codes, but in order to be consistently enforced and effective, a code with fire inspections would need guaranteed funding,” he said.

Mancos trustees discussed updating town building codes and adopting a fire code at their Feb. 22 meeting, but didn’t take a vote. They have not discussed it since then. Currently, the town uses the 2006 version of the International Business Code, according to meeting minutes.

Certain facilities such as schools and nursing homes are required by state law to have fire-safety inspections, and those are done by state-qualified fire inspectors.

Western Excelsior owners, based in Evansville, Indiana, traveled to Mancos Tuesday to meet with Mancos Fire officials and view the damage.

It is unknown if the mill, which was insured, will be rebuilt.