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Heavy smoke damages Stewart's Forest Products; gives employees short work day

Stewart’s Forest Products Inc., employees’ work day was cut short Monday after one of the company’s dust collection systems caught on fire.

Jeff Johanns, plant manager at Stewart’s Forest Products, 2003 Sleepy Hollow Road in Fort Ripley, south of Brainerd, said one of the company’s dust collection systems located next to its rough mill building caught fire. He said the company has a fire suppression system in place that automatically puts out the fire. However, this time it wasn’t able to extinguish the entire fire.

Johanns said eight out of the 40 day shift employees were working in the area of the fire and none of them were injured. All the employees evacuated as a precaution.

Johanns said the day shift employees were sent home for the day, but the night shift employees, who begin work at 3 p.m. were expected to work their regular shift Monday.

Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek said when firefighters arrived on scene, heavy smoke was seen, but never any flames. Stunek said the fire was difficult to get to, but firefighters were able to extinguish the fire. The fire was reported at 10:47 a.m. and firefighters cleared the scene at 3:13 p.m.

Brainerd had 15 firefighters on the scene and Nisswa and Crosby fire departments were called for mutual aid. Nisswa had about 10 firefighters on the scene who worked on extinguishing the fire/smoke that was in an enclosed trailer. Stunek said the trailer was full of sawdust materials that came from a pipe that was part of the dust collection system. Six Crosby firefighters manned the Brainerd Fire Hall, in case other fire calls would have come in.

The fire caused about $10,000 in damages to the company’s structures.

Brainerd brought two engines, a ladder truck and two tankers and Nisswa brought a tanker on scene.

The Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office and North Memorial Ambulance assisted on scene.

The last time the forest product company had a fire was on Jan. 1. Brainerd firefighters fought the fire in frigid temperatures when there was heavy smoke and flames in the southeast side of the building. The fire then caused about $125,000 in damages and no employees were in the building at the time of the fire.

According to Stewart’s Forest Products website, the manufacturing building is 85,000 square feet and located on 26 acres. The family-owned business began in 1971 to build wooden ammunition boxes for the U.S. government. In the late 1970s, the business focused its efforts on manufacturing commercial wooden packaging along with the government box line. The Fort Ripley facility is where all the processing and assembly is conducted.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851. Follow me on Twitter at