Firefighters are battling a four-alarm fire at the Huhtamaki plant in Waterville, where the company owners said employees escaped safely.
“More than eight towns are at the scene,” Waterville dispatcher Brandy Stanley said. All members of the Waterville fire department are on the scene, she said.
“Our division has called it a four-alarm fire,” Stanley said.
The fire broke out around 5:45 p.m. Tuesday. Some 50 firefighters had responded to the scene in 15-degree weather. They were able to warm up in five school buses parked at the scene, according to The Morning Sentinel.
Waterville fire Lt. Scott Holst told the newspaper that the fire was above the dryer area and in the roof of the building. The building was evacuated, Holst said.
The fire crews seemed to be getting the blaze under control, Waterville fire Capt. Rodney Alderman told the newspaper at 7:40 p.m.
“Our people are safe,” said Wess Hudelson, spokesman for the DeSoto, Kansas, parent company of Huhtamaki. Employees reported that the workers had exited the plant, Hudelson said.
“I don’t know how many people were working in the plant,” he said. Huhtamaki has 485 employees at the plant, which is located at 242 College Ave.
Hudelson said he does not know where or how the fire started, but he has heard it has been contained to one part of the building.
Huhtamaki, a Finland-based food and beverage package maker, has factories in Waterville and Lewiston. The Waterville factory makes compostable paper plates.
The Huhtamaki plant in Waterville also had a fire on Dec. 5, 2018, that was quickly extinguished, according to The Morning Sentinel.
“A fire in the mill is not uncommon because of the processes they use to make paper products,” Waterville fire chief Shawn Esler said. “They’re not frequent, but they’re not uncommon.”