MCMINN COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -- Fire ripped through part of a saw mill in Niota Friday morning. Firefighters say around 11:30 a hydraulic pump in a piece of machinery at the Taner Timber Company shorted out. Once sparks hit the saw dust, a fire ball erupted. They say at one point the flames were so intense the smoke could be seen as far away as Athens.
"He's lost a lot of money. This is one of the largest operations, probably, in East Tennessee," says Union Grove Fire Chief Alvin Shoemaker.
Seven different firefighting agencies were called in to help fight the blaze. Shoemaker says the hydraulic fuel and sawdust fed the flames. It took more than 50 firefighters and 50,000 gallons of water to get the fire under control. Afternoon rains also helped.
"It was a blessing in disguise. The good lord was good to us," he says.
"Jamie said, 'Sandy, the mill's gone.' And I said, 'the mill's gone?'"
Sandy Todd is a saw operator at the mill. For her and her family, it is a devastating loss.
"I've got seven members of family that works here," she says.
The mill has been a part of her life for seven years. She says while it is sad to see the family run business go up in smoke, she is just glad no one was hurt.
"Nobody was injured, so everybody got out safe. So we're thankful for that," says Todd.
We spoke to the owner. He says he does have insurance to cover the damages. There's no word on the total amount of damage done, but a fire official on the scene estimated the damages to be around $1 million.
The owner says the section of the mill that was damaged employed about 15 people.