Fire at Old Paper Mill Challenges Minn. Firefighters

Aug. 08--SARTELL -- Seven fire departments spent more than five hours putting out a fire Wednesday night at the former Sartell paper mill.

The mill, which closed in 2012, is being demolished. Parts of the roof -- including insulation, tar and rocks that had been removed and were on the ground -- caught fire and burned. Nothing of value burned, Sartell Fire Chief Ken Heim said.

The fire was reported at 8 p.m. Five demolition workers were at the site when the fire started. They were not injured.

Workers were back on the site Thursday morning, Heim confirmed.

Heim said he suspected demolition workers created sparks that ignited the fire.

"They were using a torch. It's a demolition site," Heim said Thursday morning.

Workers were removing the coal chute Wednesday. The fire was on the power plant side of the property. No coal was in the chute, but some dust might have remained, Heim said.

"It was a very tough fire to put out," Heim said.

Firefighters from St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, Waite Park, Rice, St. Stephen and St. Joseph helped Sartell fight the fire. The availability of water was limited at the site, and trucks had to haul it in.

"We had to truck water in just like a rural fire," Heim said.

Heim said the fire was stubborn, and a backhoe had to be used to tear into it. The fire was in an area that was about 50 feet by 100 feet, Heim said.

Two Sartell firefighters were injured.

Crews respond to fire at former paper mill in Sartell

Smoke could be seen blocks away. By Thursday afternoon, local health care providers had not received any calls from residents suffering from smoke-related ailments.

This is at least the fifth time the Sartell Fire Department has been called to put out fires at the former Verso Paper Mill since it closed in August 2012. Some of those were small blazes called in by passers-by.

The mill had provided employment and had been part of the Sartell skyline for more than 100 years. An explosion and fire on Memorial Day 2012 killed one worker and injured four. It caused enough damage that Verso, which owns several mills in the U.S. and is based in Memphis, Tennessee, decided not to reopen it.

AIM Development USA bought the property and is demolishing the buildings to make room for redevelopment.

Jeff McGlin of AIM Development said workers would continue to remove the tank and wall on the north side of the complex. Meanwhile, on the south side, tank and structure removal, including removal of the coal conveyor tube, was to proceed.

"Our target timeline is to have the majority of the structures on the site down by the end of 2014," McGlin said in an email. "This will also include shipping the majority of the material off-site after preparation."

Edmonton Trailer plans to open a manufacturing site on the property.

Ann Wessel contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 - St. Cloud Times, Minn.

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