EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — A fire that apparently started in the tree bark and wood dust of the bark prep room at the Katahdin Paper Co. LLC mill on Main Street drew firefighters from four towns late Wednesday.
The extent of the fire damage, or whether it hindered mill operations, was unclear late Wednesday, as mill officials declined to comment or allow media on plant property. The view from Route 11 didn’t reveal what was damaged.
“The whole building has some interior damage,” Fire Capt. Peter Larlee said late Wednesday. “It’s hard to tell how much. It’s a big building.”
No one was injured, Larlee said.
The fire was reported to the Penobscot Regional Communications Center in Bangor at about 6:35 p.m., dispatchers said. Among the first firefighters to arrive, Larlee reported flames coming through the roof of the 4½-story, approximately 50-by-150-foot structure and sought aid from neighboring towns.
Lincoln, Medway and Millinocket firefighters responded. Smoke from the building was all but gone by 7 p.m. Lincoln firefighters were the first to be dismissed at 9 p.m. The rest followed at about 9:45 p.m.
“The guys did a good job knocking it down,” Larlee said.
The mill has been the scene of at least two relatively minor but challenging fires since December. Neither compromised mill operations, mill operators said.
On Dec. 16, fire damaged or destroyed as many as 300 bales of newsprint. Each stack of bales in the December fire was about 4 feet high by 10 feet long, and they were piled together in a mound up to 25 feet tall in a 100-by-100-foot area at the center of the mill’s football field-size recycling warehouse, firefighters said.
A second fire, in the same place on March 6, destroyed as many as 35 bales.
In both cases, firefighters spent several hours dousing bales and hauling them outside the warehouse to keep the fire isolated. They had to dig through many bales to get at hot spots, firefighters said.
Though the burning material this time was bark, the fire Wednesday wasn’t much different than its predecessors, Larlee said. Darkness and heavy smoke made the smoldering areas hard to find or dig out.
Managed by Fraser Papers and owned by parent company Brookfield Asset Management of Toronto, the mill employs as many as 491 hourly workers making directory-grade paper and newsprint. Besides the paper, the mill creates or uses sawdust, wood, and bark that can burn.