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Faulty Equipment May Have Caused Fire at Lumber Company in Shuqualak

Shuqualak Lumber Company Fire
A fire devastated the Shuqualak Lumber Company’s Planer Mill Division in Noxubee County, Miss., the night of Dec. 26, 2022. Local Fire Chief Leo McClendon said Noxubee County has never seen that kind of fire. The majority-Black east central Mississippi county has seen steady industry and job loss in recent decades. Photo by Harry Jenkins

SHUQUALAK, Miss.—Last night, at around 10:30 p.m, when Shuqualak Fire Department Chief Leon McClendon was turning over to sleep for the night, his radio went off, alerting him of a fire at the Shuqualak Lumber Company. He swiftly leapt out of bed, put on his firefighting uniform and called his assistant chief, Harry Jenkins. 

Coincidentally, McClendon’s house is close enough to the local planing mill that he could see the bright orange blaze from his back door. He drove the remaining distance to the scene, where the heat was so intense that McClendon had to throw his truck in reverse and back up to prevent the vehicle’s paint from peeling. 

“We have never had that kind of fire here in Noxubee County,” the fire chief told the Mississippi Free Press today. “That was a big one there.”

‘We Went All Night Long’

Reinforcements came in the form of the Macon Fire Department, which brought five trucks and 20 firemen. On the site, McClendon and others discovered that two kilns—buildings used for drying lumber—had caught on fire. 

“We hesitated a few minutes to wait for (the) county to cut the power—water and power don’t mix,” McClendon said. “We started pumping water. I imagine we pumped over a hundred thousand gallons of water on, and we went all night long.”

Firefighters managed to tamp down the fire by 5:30 a.m, despite the cold weather. Less than an hour later, though, after the team had returned to the station, they received word that the fire had blazed to life once again, the chief described.

Shuqualak Lumber Company Fire aftermath
Monday night’s fire in Shuqualak, Miss., destroyed one kiln and damaged another at the Shuqualak Lumber Company Planer Mill Division, which Fire Department Chief Leon McClendon said is very important to the community and its economy. Photo by Harry Jenkins

After another hour of fighting the fire, the group had tamed the flames enough that they would not cause any further problems. While no one was hurt in the fire, one kiln was completely destroyed. The second that had caught on fire was deemed salvageable, and the remaining kiln ended up undamaged. 

“One of the guys that worked there at night … said it was some kind of switch. He said that he was going inside, … and it was something to do with a switch. I don’t know whether that caused it,” McClendon said. 

Loss of Industry and Jobs

Shuqualak Lumber Company’s Planer Mill Division is very important to this small, rural town, the chief said. Torsheta Jackson, who grew up in Shuqualak, reported for the Mississippi Free Press last year about the devastating loss of jobs and industry majority-Black Noxubee County, as well as her hometown, have tried to weather over recent decades.

McClendon works for the sawmill, a mile from the planing mill. Workers in his division get the logs in, cut them into lumber and then ship the product to the planing mill, where they store the lumber in the kilns until the company ships the lumber by railroad. 

Due to the fire, however, production will more than likely slow down for the lumber company. 

“We (are) running five days, and now we’re probably gonna be down for three days,” McClendon explained. “If we don’t have nowhere to put the lumber, then ain’t no need to cut it.” 

The Shuqualak Lumber Company released a statement on its Facebook page this morning, stating that it is working to determine the extent of the damage and is grateful to the Shuqualak and Macon Fire Departments, the 4-County Electric Power Association and employees who arrived on the scene last night to lend assistance in stopping the fire. 

No one was in the building, and no one was hurt. 

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