Future of Western Excelsior's Mancos mill is unclear

Monday, May 29, 2017 10:37 AM
The Western Excelsior fire on May 8. The mill employed 100 people, about 40 of them from Mancos. Workers were evacuated when the alarm went off.
Eyewitness accounts from local firefighters revealed tough conditions and timely decisions that saved injury and possibly lives.
Flames continued to flare up as the excelsior continued to burn on May 10 at Western Excelsior mill in Mancos.
The Western Excelsior fire continued to burn on Tuesday, May 9, the day after the fire erupted.

The future of Western Excelsior’s Mancos facility is still undecided, according to plant manager Keith Van Pelt.

Company representatives are still considering the investigation and working with the insurance company after a May 8 fire that destroyed the mill, Van Pelt said on Tuesday.

“The main thing is that everyone got out safe and we had no injuries,” Van Pelt said. “That was our primary focus.”

The site, at 901 Grand Ave., was still smoldering and producing smoke as of Monday. Insurance company representatives have visited the site, but Van Pelt said the cost of the damage was still unknown.

Company personnel plan to set up a temporary production facility at the Mancos site, located in an outbuilding that was not affected by the fire, Van Pelt said. They will look to recall some of the employees who previously worked at the factory, he said.

Van Pelt did not say how soon the temporary facility would be set up.

As for the long-term future of the facility, Van Pelt said that’s still undecided. Employees were offered a severance package, and the company is working with the Colorado Workforce Center to provide for employees, Van Pelt said.

At a job fair at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds on Thursday, Colorado Workforce Center Director Ray Lucero said Western Excelsior employees qualify for some training and career counseling through the Workforce Center.

“Our goal is to help people find a job and help in any way we can,” Lucero said.

There were 26 booths set up at the fair, including local staffing agencies, government agencies and businesses.

Ryan Blackwater, of Towaoc, said he had worked as a machine operator at Western Excelsior for almost two years. He said he’s now looking for work in construction after the shocking news of the fire.

“I’m looking for job security,” Blackwater said. “I’m trying to keep my head up and keep positive.”

The Mancos Pay It Forward Fund and Mancos FoodShare are offering financial and food relief for people affected by the fire.

Pay It Forward Fund offers aid to Mancos Valley residents including grocery and gas cards, rent and utilities payments, child-care fees and similar direct assistance. Residents in the 81328 ZIP code are eligible to apply for Pay It Forward assistance. Applications are available online to download at the group’s website,

Mancos FoodShare is available to Mancos Valley residents in need on the third Thursday of every month, offering shelf-stable food and produce when available. The FoodShare operates at the Mount Lookout Grange, 680 Grand Ave. For more information, visit

A phone call to Western Excelsior Corp. President Zach Snyder on Monday was not returned. Company public relations representative Alex Abbott did not respond to an email on Tuesday.