12/31/2019  |  News

Marcal Paper to reopen its Elmwood Park mill in January, 11 months after massive fire

Marcal Paper Mill, a North Jersey institution for 80 years, will restart operations in January, nearly a year after the mill was decimated by a massive fire, officials told NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey on Monday.

Rob Baron, president and chief executive officer of Marcal Paper, said the paper mill will be “back in business” in January 2020, one year after 500 people lost their jobs due to the fire. The decision was made after assessing the site and merging with a Pennsylvania-based paper company, he said.

“The prospect of such an announcement seemed impossible 11 months ago, when a devastating fire eliminated 80 years of manufacturing history in less than eight hours,” Baron said.

The paper mill served as an icon of Elmwood Park for decades, employing several residents of the town, before a mammoth fire burned 16 acres of property in January.

“We understand that many in our family lost a lot the day the fire struck our mill, and we have done everything possible to try to help them recover,” Baron said. “We also understand what Marcal means to Elmwood Park, to Bergen County and to New Jersey as a whole.”

Baron did not give an exact number of employees that the company aims to hire, only that he will look to make incremental hires as he hopes to get the mill back to a 24-hour operation.

Past employees have been given frequent updates through union leadership teams as the company has progressed. and qualified individuals will get an opportunity at the mill, Baron said.

He said Marcal completed a merger with Nittany Paper in Pennsylvania, to facilitate the company’s conversion of paper into products ready for sale. Marcal lost 21 paper-converting lines during the fire, making the merger the “only viable pathway” to restarting operations, he said.

In the 11 months since the fire destroyed the mill and the way of life for many, several job fairs were held in an effort to get employees back on their feet. The company also provided financial assistance and extended health insurance coverage for employees, Baron said.

“We’ve all waited 330 days to be able to say that Marcal was ‘back in business,’ ” Baron said. “That day has arrived.”

Night of the fire and the aftermath

The famous “Marcal” sign that looked over Route 80 toppled during the Jan. 30 fire, which peaked at 10 alarms. The blaze illuminated that same stretch of highway, and commuters heading home that night had a clear view of the flames. Roughly 400 firefighters — most of them volunteers — from 50 North Jersey towns responded to the fire.

The wind not only made it feel like subzero temperatures but spread the fire faster than the first responders could spray water on it. Fire hydrants gave out and hoses froze as firefighters were coated in ice from head to toe.

In the end, 30 of the 36 structures on the site were either damaged or destroyed.

The past 11 months have mainly consisted of cleaning up the tons of debris and testing equipment to see what had to be replaced.

Support from the community and local officials has been abundant since the fire, Baron said.

“You can’t go down Market Street and into local stores without being bound to hear, ‘Hey, when are we putting that sign back on the building?’ ” Baron said.

Although it is a long way off, Baron envisions a time when the emblem will be erected once more.

“We talk about a day in the future where there is a Marcal sign there, glowing red along Interstate 80,” Baron said.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. lauded the decision to bring the company back to full operations.

“We have all been working and waiting for this day, and the announcement that this storied business will restart some operations next year is a beautiful moment,” Pascrell said in a statement.

Baron said the company will host an event at the site to “properly and publicly” thank those who supported the recovery efforts in 2019. He did not give a specific date.

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