BUCKSPORT, Maine — A fire Sunday morning in the grinding room at Verso Paper Mill led to the evacuation of several employees and shut down production on one of the company’s paper machines for a short time.
At one point flames shot 15 to 20 feet in the air, as the mill’s fire brigade and nearby fire departments battled the blaze, according to Bucksport Assistant Fire Chief Michael Denning.
“They had to evacuate one section of the building because the smoke was so thick,” Denning said Sunday.
The fire was reported to the Bucksport Fire Department around 8:30 a.m.
“They [the fire brigade] did a really great job. It could have been a lot worse. They held it in check until they got some more help there,” the assistant chief added.
Firefighters from Bucksport, Orland and Orrington took their direction from the brigade.
“We were in radio contact with the fire brigade captain, and, what we do, we basically asked what they needed,” he said. Firefighters then donned Scott airpacks and went in with hand tools. “It was basically all inside work, labor-intensive. You go through crews pretty fast so you always have rotating crews,” the assistant fire chief said.
The fire was brought under control around 10 a.m.
Denning said it appears the fire began in one of the grinder motors, which he described as about the size of a semitruck. From there the fire spread to nearby ductwork.
The cause of the fire remains unknown, Cohen added. “It is very clear that one of the grinder motors and then some cabling and ductwork around them are damaged,” he said. “What they are doing is starting to take it all apart to find out what actually is damaged.”
Four-foot debarked logs are fed through the grinder machines. “There is some steam and water added to them and they grind the wood up. … It becomes the fiber for the base sheet,” Cohen said.
Smoke affected one of the mill’s paper machines, “but we now are in the process of bringing that back on line,” Cohen said.
Cohen said he was unsure how many people had been evacuated, but said it was normal procedure in the event of a fire.
He also said he could not estimate the dollar amount of the damage.
Ten firefighters from Bucksport, eight from Orland and five from Orrington helped fight the fire. The Penobscot Fire Department provided backup coverage for the Orland fire station, while the Sedgwick Fire Department covered for the Penobscot fire station.