Katahdin mill fire does minor damage

Posted April 15, 2010, at 7:48 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:02 p.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — A fire that burned a conveyor belt at the Katahdin Paper Co. LLC mill on Main Street late Wednesday did not interrupt mill operations, a mill official said Thursday.

Papermaking, pulping operations and the mill’s electricity supplies were not disturbed by the fire, which occurred in the bark prep room, where bark is sorted for burning in a biomass boiler that helps power mill operations, said Rick Grunthaler, the mill’s personnel department director.

“It was a lot of smoke in a building that doesn’t breathe particularly well, but that’s about it. There was no real damage,” Grunthaler said Thursday.

The fire was reported to the Penobscot Regional Communications Center in Bangor at about 6:35 p.m. Wednesday, dispatchers said. Town firefighters 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.

Wednesday’s fire was the most recent of three relatively minor but challenging blazes at the mill since December. On Dec. 16, fire damaged or destroyed as many as 300 bales of newsprint piled 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.

“We don’t have a good reason for that,” Grunthaler said of the three fires. “There is nothing obvious that points to any specific cause.”

Neither fire harmed mill operations or injured anyone, which Grunthaler attributed to the proper operation of the mill’s alarm and fire suppression systems.

He said he suspected that the latest blaze drew firefighters from outside town as a precautionary measure and to allow firefighters to rotate through the fire scene and refill their air tanks.

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.

Aside from a recent three-day shutdown for routine maintenance that typically occurs in the spring, the mill has been operating steadily, Grunthaler said.

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