It was a momentous start to the new year for leading Latin American panel maker Celulosa Arauco which revealed the purchase of its first mill in the US, but also saw its biggest pine plywood mill destroyed in a devastating forest fire in Chile.

At the end of December 2011, the Chilean forest products group announced a giant step out of the region, agreeing to buy the Uniboard MDF and particleboard plant in Moncure, North Carolina. This Pfleiderer-owned mill has panel capacities of 330,000m3/year in MDF and 270,000m3/year in particleboard as well as two melamine laminate lines.

The US$62m deal will give the pulp, panels and lumber group a new production base from which to supply more easily the growing markets in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, it said. Pfleiderer and Arauco are set to close the deal by March 2012.

However, within days of its announcement, Arauco saw an estimated 15% of its panel production wiped out as wildfires raging through Chile’s Bio Bio Valley ravaged its 450,000m3/year plywood plant at Nueva Aldea. The company reported

there had been no casualties and that its forest and industrial assets are insured.

Arauco has since announced that it plans to reconstruct the mill and estimates that it will take a minimum of two years before the stricken plant is completely replaced.

In the meantime, Arauco has drawn up a list of measures designed to assist its own employees and contract workers who lost their jobs as a result of the destruction of the plywood plant.

The company says it plans to find alternative work for 237 of its own Nueva Aldea employees or around 36% of the 661 strong unemployed workforce.

Arauco urged the contractors to try to find alternative work for their employees affected by the loss and is prepared to do all it can to help other workers to find assistance in retraining and other employment.