SPRINGFIELD, Ore. – Dozens of employees were inside Springfield Plywood and Veneer Mill as a fire broke out just before 5 p.m. Thursday.
It was a frantic scene for employees at the mill run by Swanson Group. They say they feared for their lives and had to act fast.
They said their decisions were a matter of life or death.
“I heard on the radio that another employee that works there that said ‘hey there’s flames, there’s big flames. And the next thing you know I looked up and the rafters and it was just nothing but fire,” said Swanson Group employee Dewayne Hunter.
As flames rushed toward Hunter, he says he went to his designated emergency area, but then had to act on instinct.
“I could see that the flames were coming towards us and I tried to get everybody out of there as I could,” said Hunter.
Fast moving flames shooting feet into the air gave Hunter only seconds to react.
“All I was thinking about was my nine month old baby at home and my wife, and I just needed to get out of there,” said Hunter.
“It was just like a firecracker just going off. You know just like golden flames shooting across the the top of the building and we just started running,” said Swanson Group employee, Daniel Hamaker.
Hamaker, another employee at Swanson, says they were running for their lives, fearing a catastrophic explosion from propane.
Jolene Proctor witnessed the fire from her front yard.
“You saw flames coming out of the air ducts. Everything. Just the wind carrying the flames over to another building,” said Proctor.
Proctor says watching the fireball grow – she and her fiance worried about any employees who might be inside, and afraid it might reach their home and pets.
“Just being out here in disbelief. Hoping that the wind didn’t blow this direction,” said Michael Donovan, witness.
A fire that’s leaving everyone emotionally drained.
“I’m still shaken. I’m still scared. I’m still like I can’t believe it. I mean the flames were right there. I could feel the heat from the fire on top of me,” said Hunter.
The employees did have some help getting back to their cars, which they had to abandon when the evacuated the building.