NEW YORK — Taking the first step toward rebuilding production of its Polartec high-performance apparel fabrics, Malden Mills Industries began making them Sunday — six days after an explosion and subsequent fire ripped through its Lawrence, Mass., facility.
The Dec. 11 blast sent 24 people to the hospital, eight of them in critical condition.
On Friday, Malden began installing eight new finishing machines used for Polartec in an on-site warehouse that was not damaged by the fire. The new machinery is part of the $20 million expansion Malden had earlier earmarked for 1996, said Patty Fitzpatrick, Malden’s director of operations.
Fitzpatrick, in a telephone interview, said the company is working to start production later this week at part of the plant that wasn’t damaged by the fire.
The firm also has reported that all 3,200 employees — including the 2,400 affected by the blast — would receive paychecks for the next 30 days and health insurance for the next 90 days.
“We should be pretty close to full capacity on Polartec within 90 days,” said Fitzpatrick. “We’ve already supplied our customers for their winter programs, and we should be at full capacity for the next busy time, around early March.”
Fitzpatrick said the company didn’t know the status of the new machinery until Thursday.
“It was sitting in a trailer near part of the factory that was destroyed,” she said. “When we opened the trailer up and saw that it wasn’t damaged, we cheered like mad.”
Fitzpatrick couldn’t say when full production of other Malden fabrics would resume.
A Malden spokesman said Friday that during the next month or so, the company plans to call in employees as needed for cleanup and rebuilding. He also said jobs will be restored as Malden recovers its manufacturing facilities. Malden officials said they remain committed to rebuilding the plant at the site.
The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) said it has established a $100,000 relief fund for Malden workers in Lawrence who may be in need of assistance.

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