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Firefighters battle a large overnight fire at the one-acre Pioneer Sawdust complex in Salt Lake City Friday, Feb. 3, 2012. More than 50 firefighters were called to the scene. Investigators say the fire caused major damage and appears suspicious. No employees are thought to have been at the plant when the fire sparked. (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart)
SLC firefighters battle sawdust plant, apartment blazes
Three-alarm fire » Pioneer Sawdust fire “obviously suspicious.”
First Published Feb 03 2012 06:58 am • Last Updated Apr 11 2012 11:23 pm

Firefighters were hopping early Friday, first rushing to the scene of a three-alarm blaze that heavily damaged the Pioneer Sawdust Co. plant and several, smaller adjacent businesses in west Salt Lake City, and moments later responding to an apartment fire downtown.

Salt Lake City Fire Department spokesman Scott Freitag said the plant fire — which consumed much of the one-acre site’s structures, sawdust products, vehicles and equipment — was under investigation as "obviously suspicious" in origin. He noted that the flames had spread quickly and significantly damaged all structures on the site, located at 621 S. Fulton St. (about 2300 West), in a short amount of time.

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"We’re estimating more than $1 million in damage, at least," Freitag said.

Arson investigators were on the scene late Friday morning, but their task of determining the cause of the blaze was slow-going. "There is so much debris from the fire out there right now that their work has been made very complicated," Freitag said.

Heavy equipment was brought in to carefully remove the debris and provide investigators with better access to possible fire origin points. Freitag, while acknowledging investigators had "ruled nothing out at this point," said the blaze likely began within the plant — not from a spark from a passing train on nearby Union Pacific tracks, as some earlier news reports had speculated.

In all, about 50 firefighters battled the Pioneer Sawdust fire through the night, arriving on scene about 1 a.m. Friday after several 911 callers reported the plant fully engulfed in an inferno that lit the darkness with billowing, orange flames. No employees were in the plant at the time the fire started.

Firefighters were still on the scene at mid-day, dousing stubborn hot spots as they flared anew.

Pioneer Sawdust has operated since 1956, processing and selling sawdust, wood shavings and wood chips. Other businesses reportedly sustaining damage in the blaze included Peck’s Pallets, Corporate Marketing Design and some spaces used for storage. No damage estimates were immediately available for those other spaces.

Jeff Hosley of Peck’s Pallets said he was looking Friday for a new facility, but he was still in business. "We won’t miss a day. I still have my semis and equipment and I’ll find a new place."

About the same time crews were dispatched to the Pioneer Sawdust blaze, firefighters also were called to an apartment fire at 88 E St. Freitag said the flames were contained to one apartment and a storage unit. No injuries were reported.

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