by Dennis Dalman
A state fire marshal’s report about the cause of the Verso paper mill explosion and fire is expected to be released sometime within the next two weeks.
Sartell City Administrator Patti Gartland said the fire marshal’s office completed its on-site investigation June 8 and ruled out any criminal activity, not that any had been suspected. When state fire marshal department personnel inspect fires, they always have to consider the possibility the cause of a fire may have been criminal in intent. The Verso fire clearly was not.
Gartland told the Newsleader before press time Wednesday that 92 fire departments had helped out in one way or another at the Verso scene since the catastrophe occurred there on May 28, Memorial Day. At about 11:20 a.m. on that day, an explosion ripped through the middle of the vast paper-roll storage warehouse, killing one worker – Jon Michael Maus of Albany – and injuring four others. The injured, who were treated at the hospital and released, are all doing fine. Their names were not released until recently. They are Robert Decker, Sartell; Marvin Koshiol, St. Augusta; David Popp, Rice; and Dennis Schneider, Rice.
Gartland said there are two major steps involved with the Verso tragedy that will be taken in the coming weeks. The cost of fighting the fire and its aftermath will be determined, and a bill will be submitted to Verso, which in turn can submit that bill to its insurance company. At this point, the estimate of the cost of fighting the fire, securing the building and clean-up is estimated at about $500,000, Gartland said.
The other step is for the city and others to rally to the needs of Verso to help it get back on its feet so it can possibly resume business with its 250 employees. Gartland said legislators have been “very, very supportive” in responding to the tragedy and in offering help so Verso can remain in Sartell and re-open. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who walked in Sartell’s SummerFest Grand Parade last Saturday, met that same day with workers and management at Verso to determine their needs. She had previously met in her Washington, D.C. office with Verso’s CEO. Klobuchar has promised to do everything in her power to help Verso, including the possibility of obtaining a federal grant to help in the rebuilding.
Klobuchar said she was very impressed by how all contingents are working together to make the best out of the Verso tragedy, including the upbeat spirit of Sartell residents as exemplified at the Grand Day Parade.
State Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, Sartell, has also been meeting with Verso and making contacts to find out how the state can be of help. Others who have rallied to the cause are U.S. Sen. Al Franken, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and State Sen. Michelle Fischbach, among others.