Tens of Millions of Dollars and Several Years to Restore 'Times-Dispatch' Plant

By: Jim Rosenberg The Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch operations chief has raised the estimated damage from Saturday?s press fire from $10 million to ?tens of millions of dollars? and describes work that will last years before the plant is restored to its condition before the fire.

The fire that temporarily disabled the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch's 15-year-old Hanover County production plant, where it destroyed one of three 36-couple Mitsubishi presses, was preliminarily attributed to a mechanical failure at that press, causing newsprint and the oil-based ink to ignite.

Operations, production and facilities managers referred inquiries to the newspaper's designated spokeswoman, Product Innovation and Strategic Planning Director Frazier Millner. An exact cause of the fire was not readily apparent and examinations of computer data and the burned press continue, she said Tuesday night. "Our insurance company is also now on site ... and looking deeper into the cause, along with our team."

Two firefighters sustained minor injuries, but no newspaper personnel were injured in the fire.

Erupting as a fireball, according to the paper's own account, the Saturday-afternoon blaze occurred during advance printing of the Sunday classified section. It was not brought under control for over two hours. The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, a Media General sister paper, printed the Sunday classified section, while The Washington Post's Springfield, Va., plant printed news sections.

Firefighters saved the press on each side of the one that burned, and Monday's news section was printed on those operable presses after they were restored to use. "We checked the presses and made sure they're in good working order," said Millner. With earlier deadlines in place, the two presses have since been able to print entire editions.

Given the circumstances, Milner could report that "we're in pretty good shape with two presses. We've gone from one edition to two editions." Noting some improvement every day, she said there are no plans to change the product and expected the early deadline will ease. Calling it "a day-to-day decision," Millner said, "We' fully anticipate getting back to normal and are pretty close."

But, affected by smoke, soot and water, the 470,000-square-foot plant may take many weeks to be thoroughly cleaned, according to. Millner. The paper reported water still on the mailroom floor Monday, even though over 12,000 gallons had been pumped from the building. It also noted that four of the 10 automated guided vehicles that transport newsprint rolls were out of commission.


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