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DEP keeps Medway fire pollutants out of Penobscot River

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Andrea L. Lasselle, an oil and hazardous materials specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, lays absorbent pads and a boom to absorb spilled No. 2 heating oil and kerosene at Day's Welding & Machine after it was totally destroyed in a fire on Monday, Oct. 3, 2011.
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

MEDWAY, Maine — State environmental workers believe they stopped about 100 gallons of oil and diesel fuel spilled at the site of a destroyed welding shop from reaching the Penobscot River but will monitor the scene to be sure, they said Tuesday.

Using cloth booms and absorbent squares, the two Maine Department of Environmental Protection workers cleaned and contained fuels at Day’s Welding & Machine shop on Main Road until about 8:30 p.m. Monday, said Darian F. Higgins, an oil and hazardous materials specialist for the DEP.

“We did a pretty significant cleanup there last night,” Higgins said Tuesday. “We’re in a wait-and-see position on it right now. We will be watching it through the week.”

“We did see some oil leak into the stream there, but it did not appear to make it to the Penobscot River,” he added.

Six paid and volunteer fire departments and a truck from the new Great Northern Paper Co. LLC fought the fire that destroyed the shop and doused the building’s smoldering remains for most of Monday after the blaze was reported at about 9:30 a.m. No one was injured. The building was partly insured.

Business owner Richard Day blamed Medway volunteer firefighters for the destruction of his 25-year-old business. A former Medway fire chief, Day said they responded slowly to the alarm, broke three hoses, ran out of water and took almost 30 minutes to replenish their supply.

Medway Fire Chief John Lee said firefighters did break hoses when a firetruck ran over them, but they and the other departments eventually had as many as 50 firefighters trying to save the nearly 8,000-square-foot building. He blamed the department’s problems fighting the fire on the fact that not enough volunteer firefighters were immediately available in numbers large enough to stop the fire’s spread.

Medway’s volunteer response was good considering how few volunteers the department has, Lee said.

Lee said he also doubted that the fire’s rapid spread could have been contained even if enough water had been available. The first firefighter to arrive, Lee said he saw a heavy concentration of flames at the wooden building’s center and added that he had called for help from other departments before he got there.

The fire, Lee said, was also unusually hazardous. As a welding shop would, the building had several tanks of acetylene and also several drums of No. 2 heating oil and some kerosene in storage that could have exploded.

Day said the fire appeared to have started at or near a truck he had been welding after he had left it to have coffee and deal with other issues. He said the welds felt cold when he left. Day emptied a fire extinguisher on the truck, he said.

An investigator from the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office is probing the fire’s cause. The investigation is expected to take several days.

Higgins estimated that he and fellow DEP specialist Andrea L. Lasselle removed about five yards of contaminated soil from the site, which is less than a half-mile from the river and has town drainage pipes that carry runoff to a stream and the river.

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