$5,000 reward offered in Lester Shingle Mill fire

Alex Paul

A $5,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for an arson fire at Lester Shingle around midnight Sept. 18.

Jim Philpott, owner/manger of Lester Sales, said Friday that the family owned company, founded in 1948 with a shingle mill above what is now the Point Restaurant, is determined to see anyone responsible for the $250,000 blaze incarcerated.

“We’ve talked with Police Chief Burford and he believes this is a good thing to do (the reward),” Philpott said. “We had threats made against one of our employees and against us. We would like to see this carried through.”

Some 50 Sweet Home firefighters plus crews from Lebanon and Brownsville attacked the midnight blaze and within an hour had it controlled. Numerous calls reported the fire to the Sweet Home Police Department. Damage was contained to primarily an area where most of the cutting equipment was located.

Some of the machinery, originally believed to be beyond repair, can be rebuilt, Philpott said. Two forklifts, that were scorched by the flames, are operational.

“We need to thank Mike Cochran at Rainier Wood Products for providing us with parts and offering to hire any of our employees who are without work because of this,” Philpott said.

The fire cost seven to nine persons their jobs for perhaps two months, since the Lester family plans to rebuild, although on a slightly smaller scale.

The building, nor its contents, were insured, due to a high premium associated with the type of work performed at the mill, Stan Lester said a week ago.

On Thursday, company owners met with city building inspector Wess Rowley to go over what needs to be done to demolish damaged portions of the building and begin new construction.

Rowley said he didn’t want the city to be a hinderance to the process, but added city codes need to be followed.

Two shingle mill employees, Todd and Tom Kohnke, were busy last week removing charred timbers and piling twisted metal.

The mill’s extensive electrical circuitry was ruined by the blaze and will need to be completely rebuilt, Philpott said.

The company, which also owns Lester Sales Building Supply, located next door to the mill, will utilize local contractors to rebuild. The building supply nor any of the lumber inventory, were burned.

One of those contractors, Boots Davis, was on site Thursday during the building walk-through with the city inspector.

“The Lesters and the Philpotts have been very good to me and a lot of other people in this town,” Davis said, summarizing the feelings of many of the contractors who buy materials or work through the local building supply.

Stan Lester said his father, Mel, was a partner in Three-Pack Shingle, starting in 1948. When that plant had a fire, he purchased an old mill site on 18th and constructed Lester Shingle in 1950, opening in 1951.

That building burned to the ground in late 1969 after a one year labor strike. It was rebuilt in 1970.

Fire investigators quickly arrived at the conclusion that the fire was arson caused.

“We’re going to start rebuilding as quickly as possible,” Lester said. “We’re going to build fewer square feet simply because there is less old growth cedar that we can get ahold of,” Lester said. “Old growth makes the best shingles.”

The current mill ustilized four shingle saws and two band saws that were burned. The new plant will have one shingle saw and one band saw.

“We hope that about 75% of our equipment can be repaired,” Jim Philpott said. “With new bearings and some work, it might be OK.”

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to contact the Sweet Home Police Department at 367-5181.