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Parks Township sawmill consumed by fire

| Thursday, March 19, 2009

Burning garbage trigged a brush fire that consumed a saw mill off Upper Mateer Road in Parks Wednesday afternoon.

No one was injured, but Dennis Keim's uninsured business was destroyed.

Keim said his 19-year-old son was supposed to prepare trash to be burned once it rained. Instead, Keim said his son started burning Wednesday afternoon while Keim was away.

"I was heading out of Vandergrift when the fire truck passed me," Keim said as he watched firefighters douse the remaining hot spots in his leveled building.

"I saw the smoke and thought I'd check it out in case it was someone I knew," he said.

Jay Start, a spokesman for Parks Township Volunteer Fire Company, said crews were lucky to contain the fire to the mill and about a half-acre of brush atop Keim Lane.

"With the wind on this hill, it's tough," Start said. "The burning trash got away from him because it's dry and windy. It got hold of the saw mill."

The mill and its wooden contents burned rapidly. Within an hour, all but a portion of one smoldering wall was gone.

Start said crews prevented the blaze from spreading to nearby buildings, including Keim's home and a neighbor's barn-like garage. Keim said the heat melted some of the siding on his garage.

"It was a good stop," Start said, noting Keim's son couldn't immediately call 911 because the fire burned a phone line.

Start said crews had the blaze under control by 5 p.m., two hours after it began. As the Parks fire was winding down, several companies left to fight a brush fire at Culp's Auto Wrecking on nearby Chestnut Road in Kiski Township.

Start said there was a good turnout considering manpower can be hard to come by in the middle of weekday afternoon.

Crews from Bethel, Gilpin, Kiski Township, North Apollo, Vandergrift and West Leechburg fire companies assisted, along with Lower Kiski Ambulance.

Tanker trucks ferried water from Upper Mateer Road up a the steep dirt lane leading to Keim's hilltop property.

Keim said the mill was a conglomeration of three buildings that created an area about 75 feet by 20 feet.

He said the mill was built about 20 years ago. He used it for custom-sawing and kiln-drying lumber.

"It's something I've been doing since 1996," said Keim.

He said he recently canceled his insurance on the building. He doesn't plan to rebuild.

"I'm not going to do anything with it," he said. "I'm done."

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