January 16, 2018
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Firefighters douse ‘toxic’ blaze at former GNP mill site

By McCrea and Sambides, Special to the BDN
BDN File | BDN
BDN File | BDN
An excavator tears down one of four buildings to be demolished at the former paper mill site on Main Street, Feb. 7, 2017.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Area fire crews doused a debris fire in a section of the former Great Northern Paper Co. mill site that had been in the midst of demolition.

The fire broke out around 6:30 p.m. in a pile of “debris and junk,” East Millinocket Fire Chief Les Brown said Tuesday morning. The blaze had to be controlled because of the toxicity of the debris. If the fire got out of control, Brown said locals may have been forced to evacuate.

Lincoln’s ladder truck carried the brunt of the workload, as it allowed crews to get water to the fire without sending firefighters into the partly demolished structure. Holes in the ground where machinery used to be placed, scattered demolition debris and missing railings all pose potential risks, the chief said.

Brown said he had serious concerns about the safety of the building, adding that if any future fires broke out he wouldn’t send a team inside unless someone’s life was at risk.

“There’s nothing there to save,” he said.

Crews also wanted to keep Monday’s fire under control in order to protect the main portion of the mill, which has been eyed for future redevelopment.

Firefighters had to lay about 3,000 feet of hose to reach the blaze because water had been shut off at the mill site and the mill’s fire pumps already had been removed and sold, according to Brown.

Crews cleared the scene by 10:30 p.m. Fire crews from Millinocket, Medway and Lincoln helped at the scene, with Mattawamkeag Fire Department covering the station for East Millinocket, according to Brown.

This was the second time this year fire crews have battled a blaze at the partly demolished mill. Brown said a different contractor was cutting metal on the site several months ago, which sparking another debris fire.

“That’s when we learned how dangerous the mill was,” Brown said, pointing to missing railings and removed walkway grating that made entering some parts of the mill, even under the best conditions, treacherous.

The razing of parts of the mill, now owned by North American Recovery Management of Boca Raton, Florida, stalled when a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order preventing the demolition of at least seven site buildings that would be “an important part” of a developer’s $240 million plan to make biofuels and other materials there.

Released on Feb. 28, the order does permit the razing of four buildings that North American got state permits to demolish on Feb. 1. Those buildings are the two two-story paper machine buildings plus two smaller buildings identified in the permit. It protects seven others.

A company called EMEP sought the injunction alleging North American repeatedly delayed closing on a $1.75 million purchase and sale agreement and committed breach of contract by violating the Letter of Intent.

EMEP and North American were in talks as of two weeks ago.

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