Sawdust silo fire flares a 2nd time at Pittsfield yard

Posted Feb. 08, 2009, at 11:53 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — A stubborn blaze in a sawdust silo pulled firefighters from four towns to Pittsfield shortly after midnight Saturday for the second time in two days.

Hancock Lumber Co., just off Route 100, blows sawdust from its lumber operation into a 100-foot-tall silo, where it is then fed by an auger into the main buildings and used as a heating source.

On Thursday, a blaze was reported in the silo. Firefighters worked for several hours to extinguish it.

Pittsfield Fire Chief Bernard Williams said early Saturday that type of fire is extremely difficult to fight.

“When you put water on it, whether from above or below, it only soaks the sawdust and forms a cap,” he said.

Lumberyard employees were soaking the sawdust every 45 minutes from Thursday to Saturday, yet a pocket of fire apparently smoldered in the silo. Firefighters were called to the scene again early Saturday after a passer-by reported smelling smoke.

“I couldn’t see anything when I first got here,” Williams said. “But then it just erupted, like a volcano, with a big whoosh.”

Firefighters used a scissor-lift to help supply water to crews on the top of the tower, while other firefighters cut an opening in a side of the silo about 15 feet from the ground. It was quickly evident that fire was present on both the top and bottom of the silo.

Flames were visible on the silo’s roof, and sparks and embers were pouring from the bottom of the auger mechanism.

Firefighters began pouring water in and were assisted by the Skowhegan Fire Department, which arrived with a tower truck.

Firefighters also had to fight low temperatures and icing. At least 3 inches of ice was already underfoot from Thursday’s fire. Water began puddling Saturday on top of the ice, making work treacherous.

No one was injured at the fire, although there were a few falls on ice.

Pittsfield was assisted by firefighters from Detroit, Newport and Skowhegan.

Firefighters finally cleared the scene after 5 a.m. Saturday.

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