Business Owner Works to Place Employees After Fire

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Charleston business owner Phil White said he’s coming up with a plan for his displaced workers after a fire heavily damaged his pallet factory.

About 25 employees of Medlock Forest Products are affected. White said he plans to put about a third of them to work at his Fort Smith Plant on Highway 71 South, a third at the Clarksville site and the rest of them will be out of work until he can restore the Charleston plant.

White said he also looked at several sites Wednesday and is considering leasing a location to ensure all of them can get back to work.

Fire crews worked into the early morning hours to put out the fire that sparked at the pallet factor on West Main Street Tuesday night (April 9). At times, flames were as high as 40 feet in the air according to Charleston Fire Chief Shawn Lovett.

White was on scene as crews worked to salvage what they could of the building.

“The worst part of it is these people who are just coming back to work,” White said. “They’ve got families to feed. I mean we can put a new building up. I’m not worried about that. The customers we can figure out later. But my workers, I need to get them back here. That’s my priority right now.”

White was more worried about his employees than his building turning to ashes.

“One guy has worked here about 37 years,” White said, looking at his coworkers standing in the thick smoke. “Another guy over there, Rex, he’s worked here I think 28, 29 years. You know some guys they just came to work here after high school and never left.”

“We’ve got to find a new building really quick and see how quickly we can put it back together and get these people back to work,” White said. “We’ve got business, we just need a building.”

Fire crews were able to salvage three buildings on site: the sawmill, the office and a house. However, the main factory and everything inside was destroyed.

Four fire departments worked together to get the fire out: Charleston, Branch, Big Creek and Lavaca. Lovett said the cause of the fire is still under investigation. However, White told 5NEWS he believed it was an electrical problem that sparked it.

No one was in the building at the time of the fire. No injuries have been reported.