May 24, 2018
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Cause of Topsham rail car fire remains undetermined

By Beth Brogan, BDN Staff

TOPSHAM, Maine — The cause of a two-alarm fire Sunday afternoon at Grimmel Industries will remain undetermined, but Topsham Fire Chief Brian Stockdale said Monday that he does not suspect foul play.

The blaze, in one of several old rail cars used to store reclaimed wire and other scrap materials, drew firefighters from seven towns to battle the flames amid the searing afternoon heat.

Sunday’s blaze was the seventh fire in less than two decades at the scrap metal recycling plant, at the site of the former Pejepscot paper mill on the Androscoggin River.

No injuries were reported, Topsham Fire Chief Brian Stockdale said Monday, and aside from peeling paint, the steel rail car that burned did not sustain significant damage and “is certainly operational.”

Grimmel Industries operates seven scrap metal recycling plants from Florida to Maine, including two others in Maine — in Lewiston and Oakland — and one in Portsmouth, N.H.

The Topsham site has been plagued with fires, including several notable burns. A 1995 fire that caused more than $1 million in damages was determined to be arson.

A July 2004 inferno drew firefighters from 17 departments to a three-alarm fire that destroyed several buildings. Investigators said the flames were so hot that the cause could not be determined, according to the Sun Journal.

And in September 2009, a four-alarm fire at the plant marked the fifth blaze at Grimmel’s Topsham facility in 14 years, The Forecaster reported.

Sunday’s fire has been officially classified as of undetermined origin because a number of causes are possible, Sgt. Ken Grimes of the state fire marshal’s office said Monday.

“It’s not a scrap yard where materials come in and sit around,” Grimes said. “This is a processing facility with mechanical processing, and there is friction associated with the processes, and friction creates heat.”

“It’s the nature of that type of business, with that type of materials, that it generates a lot of heat on its own,” Stockdale said. “A lot of the fires that happened there have been either sparked by a piece of machinery or kind of a self-combustion.”

Grimmel Industries did not return a phone call seeking comment on Sunday’s fire.

Stockdale said that since the 2009 fire at the yard, the owners of Grimmel “have done quite a bit to reduce issues” that could spark fires, including decreasing the size of the debris piles and decreasing the amount of materials kept at the site.

Grimmel also has hired a security company to post a guard at the site 24 hours a day, he said, so that — as was the case on Sunday — the guard could report any fire as soon as possible.

“Since they made those changes, we’re getting there sooner, so we’re able to control [the fires] a lot faster,” Stockdale said.

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