COLUMBIA FALLS – After initial reports that several people were missing following a Tuesday afternoon explosion at Plum Creek Timber Co., authorities say everyone who was in the affected facility has been accounted for, and no one was hospitalized.
Both Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry and Plum Creek spokeswomen Kathy Budinick and Kate Tate told reporters that all employees who were in the medium density fiberboard plant are safe.
“The good news is that all are accounted for, and there were no reported injuries,” Tate told the Missoulian less than two hours after the explosion or explosions, which occurred shortly after 3 p.m.
Later Tuesday, Budinick told the Missoulian that 68 people were in the medium density fiberboard plant at the time.
An ensuing fire sent plumes of smoke billowing above the plant that was visible for miles. Fire departments from across the Flathead Valley responded to the scene.
Curry told the Associated Press several employees were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene.
“There is extensive damage to the exterior of the building,” Curry said. “It was a significant explosion.”
Witnesses who live near Plum Creek reported hearing two to three explosions shortly after 3 p.m.
Tate said the cause of the explosions is not yet known.
“We’re working with public safety officials to investigate that,” she said.
At 7 p.m., Budinick said the fire had been contained, but she could not confirm whether it was out.