Lumber industry feels impact of Livingston mill closure
A fire apparently caused by a dust explosion destroyed buildings and equipment at a Montana sawmill. Photo: Park County Rural Fire Department

The lumber industry in Montana is forever impacted by two fires. 

The first was in September, believed caused by a dust explosion destroyed three buildings, machinery, and lumber  at R-Y Timber in Livingston.

The timber company confirmed it will close after it was damaged in a second fire last week that torched walls and roofs.

“All of the jobs that they have means a lot, it's meant a lot for 25 years here to Livingston. And, you know, I know personally, people that have worked there,” CEO of the Livingston Area Chamber and Visitor Center Leslie Feigel said.

The general manager at the company says they employ nearly 80 people and will lay off more than half of them this week.

The community is rallying to help those who lost their jobs find work by hosting a job fair on Mar. 11.

“The workers who are skilled workers, and there's about 75 of them, we know our community comes together, and they're going to be finding them some wonderful jobs. We've been receiving phone calls and emails about many of the businesses locally and beyond local,” Feigel said.

The company says they produce 16% of the construction lumber manufactured in the state. Losing the mill is devastating, as experts say they've now lost 33 mills in the last 31 years in Montana.

“We're just under a billion dollars, an economic engine to the state of Montana in sales. So it's a big industry. But we have lost -- we were about 7,000 people within that industry -- but we have lost over 4,000 in the last 30 years as well. But we're still here. I mean, that's the good news,” Montana Wood Products Association executive director Julia Altemus said.

Folks in the lumber industry say the importance of the lumber industry cannot be overlooked, as it plays a huge role in managing Montana's forests.

“(If) this mill infrastructure goes away in Montana, you're not going to be able to harvest and address forest health on the 9 million acres that have been identified within Montana that need some kind of mitigation. So we don't want to see it all go up in smoke,” Altemus said.

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