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No injuries in blaze at former Niagara mill

May 24, 2012
By LISA M. HOFFMANN - Staff Writer , The Daily News

NIAGARA, Wis. - Buildings being demolished at the former Niagara paper mill caught fire Wednesday morning.

Several fire departments battled the blaze in an old paper machine building. It was brought under control by early Wednesday afternoon.

There was no damage estimate because the buildings are being razed.

Article Photos

Firefighters from several area departments battle a blaze at the former Niagara paper mill Wednesday. The building was being demolished when it caught fire Wednesday morning.
Theresa Peterson/Daily News Photo

"The buildings affected are the ones being demolished," said Eric Spirtas, president of Niagara Development LLC, the owner of the property.

"There are daily and weekly meetings from the demolition contractor and when something like this happens, it causes us to watch every step and plan much closer," he said.

Spirtas added he will welcome input from the fire chief and fire marshal to make sure the steps the contractor is doing are appropriate.

Marinette County Dispatch

received the 9-1-1 call at 8:48 a.m. from a worker at the former mill reporting a structure fire.

Niagara Fire Department was dispatched, and firefighters were on scene within minutes of the fire.

Fire Chief Shawn Brown said they depleted the water source, so mutual aid was requested almost immediately from Aurora Fire Department, followed by Breitung Township Fire, Beecher-Dunbar-Pembine Fire, and Florence Fire Department.

Niagara Police Department provided traffic control and scene security.

All workers were safely evacuated from the plant and no injuries were reported, said Marinette County Emergency Management officials.

Officials said the roof of the building that was being torn down caught fire, and spread quickly throughout the east end the building.

Brown said the fire was well under control by 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"However, city wells were depleted by the volume of water being pumped," he said.

Operations were then scaled down, and fire crews remained on scene to monitor hot spots.

More than 100,000 gallons of water was used to fight the fire.

Approximately 50 firefighters fought the fire with nine tankers and three pumper trucks. Brown said firefighters cleared the scene by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Brown said the cause of the fire was from demolition work at the building.

"Cutting on the roof with torches caught the roofing material during demolition work," he said. "With a three-story building, anything is possible because of rods and cranes. We fought the fire from the outside as much as we could and knocked it down 90 percent from the outside."

Brown added the fire was contained to the east end of the paper machine floor.

Brown said this was the first major fire at the mill. He thanked all the area fire departments and the American Red Cross.

"We couldn't do it without area fire departments. We couldn't use water fast enough as the mill as no fire protection (at this time)," he said.

"Without joint help, we would have been in trouble. It was a demo fire, and it was roaring out of control when we got there," he said.

It took firefighters three hours to control the fire. The afternoon was spent mopping up.

No one was injured in the fire.

The property is owned by Niagara Development, but the buildings on the property are owned by American Iron & Metal (AIM) of Macedonia, Ohio.

Spirtas said contractors are Aim Demolition of Canada, and Northwoods Environmental of Ontonagon.

Sub-contractors were conducting the demolition work, cutting a section of roof on the east end of the mill.

"The contractors are very familiar with demolition work and are demolishing buildings that have materials in them that can ignite," Spirtas said. "As an owner, you have to acquire a better message and fire watch."

Spirtas said the fire "allows Niagara Development to force contractor efforts to redouble their process."

"Efforts still have to go forth. We have to make sure we contact the proper authorities. They will give us guidance and we will move forward," Spirtas said.

Residents react

Area residents said this was just another chapter to the mill's sad ending.

Many of them spent time on Wednesday reminiscing about the way it use to be.

"It's sad for what happened there. It's too bad the way things worked out and the fire adds onto that," said Shane Moratti of Niagara, who worked at the mill for six years.

Sheryl Baciak of Norway said her father, James Milligan of Norway, worked at the mill for 43 years, first in the woodyard and then as saw sharpener.

"He met Jimmy Hoffa," she said.

Baciak said her father now as Alzheimer's and was able to see the fire on Wednesday.

"He spent half his life there. He was devastated when it was closed," she said.

Todd Brasure of Niagara, Wis., was familiar with the area that burned.

"It is devastating, but it was coming down anyway," said Brasure, who worked at the mill for 20 years and lives across from it. "I hope no one was hurt."

Brasure added the building that was on fire Wednesday was an old lab/control room for newsprint paper machines and also housed an electrical room where motors were stored. He added that building could have contained old products, such as paper, dust and asbestos.

American Red Cross Northeastern Wisconsin Region sent a team to provide food and water for responders.

Other agencies responding were Niagara Area Emergency Unit, Marinette County Sheriff Department and Marinette County Emergency Management.

The former NewPage Paper Mill in Niagara is located on a 1,300-acre property on the Menominee River in Dickinson and Marinette counties.

It closed in October of 2008 and was purchased by Niagara Development on Feb. 11, 2011.

The company has renovated the clubhouse and was in the process of tearing down the boiler house, paper machine building and clay silos.

The unusable buildings were being torn down for open areas, and to facilitate new multi-level buildings to accommodate any industry.

Corporate headquarters of Niagara Worldwide have set up in the clubhouse.



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