06/22/04 — Potter's Wheel rebuilding after fire

View Archive

Potter's Wheel rebuilding after fire

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 22, 2004 1:58 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- A fire destroyed a pallet plant earlier this year, but the wheels never stopped turning.

The plant lost $450,000 in February when a fire burned down the 4,000-square-foot pallet shop at the Potter's Wheel, a drug rehabilitation center near Summerlin's Crossroads in rural Duplin County outside Mount Olive.

On Wednesday, the pallet crew moved into a new 5,200-square-foot pallet shop. "We don't owe a penny on this building," said Executive Director Larry Miller. "It's modern and up-to-date safey-wise."

Miller assigns jobs to the 50 men who undergo the six-month rehabilitation program. The pallet shop is one place they are assigned. Others are the grinding operation, where the scrap wood from the pallet shop is ground into a mulch and sold.

Other crews do things like carpentry, landscaping, greenhouse work or help raise the food cooked in the kitchen that feeds the 80 people on site.

Shortly after quitting time on Feb. 5, one of the capacitors caught fire on the pallet dismantler, which takes apart the old pallets delivered in one of the eight trailers pulled by the ministry's three semis.

The fire spread quickly, burning down the pallet plant and the mechanic shop behind it.

Miller said the seven fire departments that responded to the call did a great job of containing the fire, which was trying to reach the nearby woods on one side and the ministry's grinding operation on the other.

The pallet shop was a heap of ashes surrounded by mud when the fire died. Snow was still on the ground, and it was sleeting. A 300-square-foot quansant hut, three nail guns and a dismantler were all that was left.

"We started cleaning up," said Miller. "There were 3,000 pallets burned up in it. ... We lost three fork lifts, two tractors, $80,000 worth of mechanic tools, all kinds of break-down equipment. ... We had no insurance and no money to rebuild."

The crew members came to Miller and asked, "Have we got to leave?"

"This is 85 percent of our income," said Miller. "All they could see was no more groceries, no more money to pay the light bill. ... All these guys in the rain and sleet worked night and day said, 'We don't want to leave.'"

The day after the fire, the carpentry crew started adding a shelter to one of the sides of the quansant hut, while the pallet crew built pallets inside it. They finished the shelter in three days.

In the coming months, the crew never missed a contract deadline, and it never turned away a customer.

It had to be God, said Christopher Williams of the pallet crew, "for us to pull it off like we did. We didn't have a roof on it. We used some old raggedy nail guns.

"I was grateful to be here. To see the place burn up, we thought the ministry wouldn't go on. But we picked up more contracts, and we were making more than before the fire in a quarter of the space."

Brandon Currin had only one more month to go before he finished the program. "We were working with burnt wrenches, burnt everything," said Currin, who had left the program twice and returned both times. "I'd said, 'This isn't for me.' But I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world now."