Story #25: Collapsed roof due to ash weight

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By Mary Minton

I was standing in my Kent kitchen that morning when I heard a loud boom after 8 a.m. It was highly unusual to hear anything in that remote area, and it was highly unusual that I would be up at 8 a.m. on a Sunday. We didn’t have a TV, so I didn’t know what had happened until the next day.

In 1975, I was heading to live in Bellingham, when Mount Baker started rumbling and it was thought that it blow soon. It rumbled and fretted, and a friend of a friend flew over it and took photos for me, commenting that he could smell the “sulfur” through the small plane. But, nothing ever really erupted.

So, when Mount St. Helens was rumored to erupt, those of us in Washington didn’t pay too much attention. “Sure, it will,” we said.

Well, on Monday, May 19, 1980, I went to work at the Weyerhaeuser Research Center in Federal Way as usual and found out what had happened. A couple I know who also worked at Weyerhaeuser “Tech Center” had gone camping on Weyerhaeuser land during the weekend. They made it out all right, although they weren’t sure at the time and had huge concerns for others they had seen there.

But the largest memory I have is going to look in my Weyerhaeuser (hard mail) inbox that morning of May 19 and finding a memo from the company saying that their lands were now open for employees to go camping for the year!

St. Helens erupted five times. One of those times, July, I believe, I was with several other Weyerhaeuser employees in a trip to Federal Way headquarters. We stood outside in the street watching the pyroclastic cloud rise in the air from an eruption within the hour.

Of course, effects of the eruption lasted for years. I left Weyerhaeuser and went to graduate school at University of Washington in fall 1980 and came back to work for Weyerhaeuser in Federal Way again in 1982, then ended up in the Longview mill. I was then involved in a Weyerhaeuser Longview mill rebuild of the brown pulp processing screen room, which wasn’t finished until 1985.

It became an opportunity to install rather experimental new “pressure screens.” The roof of the old screen room had collapsed due to ash weight, not to mention flooding and debris that the mill had experienced. The company quickly harvested as many of the downed trees as it could and brought them for processing at the pulp mill. However, the trees were so covered and encrusted with ash, which is largely silica and very corrosive. It was really hard on the mill equipment for years and many pieces ended up having to be replaced earlier than they should have been.

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