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January 30, 2019

Fire contained, Huhtamaki paper products plant reopens this morning

Photo / Huhtamaki North America
Photo / Huhtamaki North America
A fire that broke out early Tuesday evening at the Huhtamaki paper products plant on the Waterville-Fairfield line is now contained and the plant is back in operation, according to several news reports.

A fire that broke out early Tuesday evening at the Huhtamaki paper products plant on the Waterville-Fairfield line is now contained and the plant is back in operation, according to several news reports.

The mill is a division of Huhtamaki North America, which has 18 production units in the United States and Mexico with more than 3,600 employees and North American revenue in excess of $1 billion, according to the company's website. The Waterville mill has 485 employees and makes environmentally friendly compostable paper plates.

In an updated report late this morning, the Morning Sentinel reported the fire had rekindled and that firefighters had returned to the scene to deal with hot spots on the roof.

The Morning Sentinel reported that firefighters from as many as 15 communities fought the blaze, which Waterville Fire Chief Shawn Esler told the newspaper Tuesday night was burning in the paper machines below the roof.

The Waterville Fire Department issued an updated report on its Facebook page noting that a Fairfield firefighter injured in the firefighting efforts was examined at a hospital and discharged with a minor injury.

Regarding the cause, the department reported: "After an investigation was conducted, the State Fire Marshal investigator reported a malfunction in a dryer unit, which generates significant amounts of heat, likely caused the fire that spread quickly to the roof overrunning the sprinkler system. The cause of the fire will be listed as accidental. It is likely the damage will exceed $1,000,000."

The department reported that Huhtamaki staff are now working on repairs and the plant is back in operation.

"Plant safety is a top priority and was well implemented throughout the mill," the department reported on its Facebook page. "The cooperation between Huhtamaki and the Waterville Fire Department led to a positive outcome last night. Again, we wish them a speedy recovery and will continue to support them in any way possible.

Agencies on the scene during Tuesday's firefighting efforts included: Albion Fire, Belgrade Fire, Augusta Fire, Clinton Fire, Fairfield – Benton Fire, Fairfield Police, Kennebec Emergency Management, Norridgewock, Oakland Fire, Skowhegan Fire, Sidney Fire, Vassalboro Fire, Waterville Fire, Waterville Consolidated Firefighters, Waterville Police, Waterville Regional Communication Center, Waterville School District and Winslow Fire.

In a Facebook post Tuesday night, Esler credited the coordinated multi-agency response with possibly saving the mill.

"Without the support of our neighboring fire departments, damage would have much more extensive or the fire may have remained uncontrolled," he wrote. "Our mutual aid agreements and aggressive regional cooperative effort have improved fire suppression and emergency medical services to all communities, not only Waterville. Tonight demonstrated our efforts are paying off."

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