MEDWAY, Maine — It was, Fire Chief Brian McLaughlin saw, something that could take days — smoke rising from smoldering embers somewhere within a cedar mulch pile as long as a football field and about 2½ stories tall.
Speaking Saturday afternoon, shortly after firefighters concluded their 16-hour battle at Scott’s Co. fertilizer plant to find and douse the embers, McLaughlin said the fire might flare up again despite firefighters’ hard work.
“These kinds of fires are one of the bigger nightmares for firefighters not because of safety [hazards] so much but because they can last for days,” McLaughlin said.
No injuries were reported. McLaughlin said that firefighters likely would be checking the Nicatou Road fertilizer plant Sunday and possibly Monday for flare-ups.
Plant workers reported the fire about 6:30 a.m. Friday. The first firefighter to arrive, McLaughlin said he wondered how long a day he might have in front of him.
“My first thought — it was more of a hope — was that we would be able to dig it out within three or four hours,” McLaughlin said.
Town firefighters left the plant at 8:30 p.m. Friday. They spent another three hours attending to their gear at the station before resuming the battle for several more hours at 8 a.m. Saturday. East Millinocket firefighters assisted on the second day.
Firefighters doused flames and embers after Scott’s Co. workers dug smoldering sections of the pile with backhoes. Several times the smaller piles Scott’s workers created ignited, McLaughlin said.
Wood mulch can ignite from a spark or from heat created by the chemical processes that occur naturally during drying and decomposition. Those processes create steam as warm air escapes the pile, according to accuweather.com. Dousing mulch piles lessens the risk of fire.
McLaughlin considered seeking aid from other fire departments on Friday but didn’t want too many firefighters tied down if another emergency occurred. The fire had little chance of spreading and wasn’t a large safety risk, he said.
McLaughlin said he won’t know how much the fire cost the town for a few days. Eight firefighters answered the call Friday; another half-dozen on Saturday.