Fire Damages Abandoned Pawtucket, Rhode Island Mill

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (AP) -- Jack DeBurgo was milling around his home, when he looked out a window and saw nothing but smoke. Stepping outside, he saw a fire raging in an abandoned mill no more than 100 yards from his front door.

``I said, 'This is crazy,''' the 20-year-old said.

``The first thing I thought about was ... my house burning down,'' added DeBurgo's wife, Jennifer.

For the next several hours, the DeBurgos and others watched as fire engulfed the multistory brick building on Esten Avenue on Wednesday, causing a section of the structure to collapse. No injuries were reported, and no one was told to evacuate, said state Fire Marshal Irving Owens, though some in nearby businesses did leave.

Fire Chief Timothy McLaughlin said the blaze began in the rear of the building shortly before 10:30 a.m. The fire initially was so intense that firefighters were told to pull back and take a defensive position, he said.

``It was a stubborn fire,'' McLaughlin said.

Firefighters contained the blaze to the rear section of the building, which is separated by a parking lot from heavily trafficked Interstate 95, according to McLaughlin. A section in that area collapsed, McLaughlin said, but the rest of the building was still standing, though some hot spots remained as of midday.

``That building is still in relatively good shape,'' Owens said, praising the quick work of firefighters.

Michael Squillante, an eyewitness, said he saw flames shooting out from the building's roof and watched the section collapse, as firefighters yelled to each other about dangerous areas.

``I got the best view,'' he said.

McLaughlin said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

The building is in a complex of similar brick structures, all of which are no more than two floors high. A chain link fence separates the complex in some places from Esten Street, where on the other side is a mix of homes, a large textile mill and small businesses such as auto repair shops.

McLaughlin said the building has been vacant at least two years, and that no one was believed to have been inside, though squatters have been known to frequent the premises.

Firefighters from Central Falls and North Providence helped the Pawtucket department battle the four-alarm blaze.