Byline: Michael McNamara

NEW YORK — In the wake of a massive explosion Monday night at Malden Mills Industries’ Lawrence, Mass., plant, company executives estimated Tuesday that production on its core Polartec and Polarfleece apparel fabrics should be up and running again at the Lawrence facility within 30 days.
The blast and subsequent fire severely damaged two buildings housing a large portion of the firm’s dyeing and finishing operations and sent 31 people to area hospitals. Eight of the hospitalized were in critical condition with severe burns, according to local fire officials.
As of Tuesday afternoon, no deaths were reported.
Malden officials said it was too early to ascertain the total damage sustained in the two buildings. They said the loss will be covered by insurance.
With production expected to start within a month on Polartec and Polarfleece, the officials said the company should be able to fill customer demand within 30 to 90 days.
A similar schedule is expected in the company’s woven unbranded upholstery fabrics, they said.
However, Malden said it will take another one or two days to evaluate the damage sustained to its flock operation, whose products are mainly for residential home furnishings. The flock operation sustained the most damage, the company said.
Malden said it will notify all of its apparel and home furnishings customers by Friday as to the extent of any shipment delays.
The fire, reported at 8:04 p.m., wasn’t brought under total control until roughly 8 a.m.,
Tuesday morning, according to Lieutenant Glenn Gallant of the Methuen Fire Department. The plant is located in both Lawrence and Methuen, and Methuen was the first department to respond.
Gallant said fire companies from 35 surrounding towns in northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire responded to the blaze.
“Weather definitely hampered our efforts,” said Gallant. While it appears a boiler exploded, as of Tuesday afternoon the exact cause was unknown, he said.
“Between the frigid temperatures, water shortages and a strong westerly wind that was blowing the embers across residential areas, it was difficult,” Gallant said, adding that a furniture stripping business a quarter-mile away was destroyed by a fire ignited by the flying embers.
“A few firefighters,” he said, suffered minor injuries.
Roughly 400 were at the plant at the time, working the evening shift. The Lawrence facility employs about 2,400 in total; Malden employs more than 3,200 worldwide.
Malden’s $400 million-plus sales are split almost evenly between apparel and home furnishings.
Malden officials said its headquarters building, power plant and water treatment facilities were not affected. Malden also said its finished goods storage area was intact and did not sustain any smoke damage. The firm also has two knitting facilities in Hudson, N.H., and Bridgeton, Maine.
“From our point of view, we are sweeping away the ashes and should be back in full operation as quickly as possible,” said Jeff Bowman, merchandising and marketing manager, in an interview Tuesday from Lawrence. Bowman said Malden has “every intention,” of rebuilding the plant at the current site.
Malden, which was established in 1906, had been headquartered at the Lawrence site since 1956. The plant suffered a smaller fire in 1993.
Many industry executives said any shortage of production of the popular Polartec and Polarfleece fabrics will allow other firms to take advantage in the short term.
At full capacity, Malden produces 750,000 yards of Polartec fabric per week at Lawrence.
Dyersburg Corp., Malden’s chief competitor in the fleece fabric arena, released this statement late Tuesday:
“Due to the highly specialized processes involved in producing these fabrics, the limited available capacity, Malden’s leadership and market uncertainties, we feel it is appropriate to temporarily remove our products from sale until we determine the best course of action for the industry.” Dyersburg officials could not be reached for further comment.
“I think there will be a lot of opportunities in apparel,” said Mark Aaronson, president of Cesyl Mills, Millbury, Mass., a manufacturer of pile fabrics primarily for industrial and other non-apparel applications. “A lot of us will look at areas we haven’t gone into because they were a little too competitive. Malden has had this business in apparel pretty well tied up.”

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