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Port Townsend Paper Mill watching wood chip pile after stubborn fire

PORT TOWNSEND, Washington (From news reports) -- The Port Townsend Paper Mill is monitoring a wood chip pile, used to fuel the mill's boiler, for potential fire risk after mill employees called in East Jefferson Fire Rescue to help deal with a blaze last week.

Fire crews from East Jefferson Fire-Rescue (EJFR) were called in to help deal with a stubborn fire at the Port Townsend Paper Corp. mill on the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 25.

Crews were called in at roughly 5:30 p.m. at the request of company officials, who had been battling the smoldering wood chip fire for hours, according to Bill Beezley of East Jefferson Fire-Rescue.

The wood chips, also known as hog fuel, are used in the mill's boiler, according to Port Townsend Paper Mill general manager Mike Craft.

Craft said the fuel is stacked away from the mill in an effort to reduce fire risk.

However, on Wednesday crews detected a smoldering pile of the fuel and attempted to eliminate the fire risk. According to Craft, mill employees found more of the smoldering fuel and then called in EJFR crews to assist in containing the blaze.

When crews from EJFR arrived, the fire was roughly 100 feet across with flames reaching 30 feet high, according to Beezley.

The cause of the fire was spontaneous combustion, according to Beezley.

"We continue to monitor the hog fuel for any additional risk, and are prepared to respond rapidly as needed," Craft said in an email on Saturday.

The burning chips were scooped up using heavy machinery and were relocated to an open area where fire crews were able to saturate the wood chips.

According to Craft this method of fire prevention is considered "best practices" for industrial facilities.

EJFR crews left the mill just before 9 p.m. Wednesday and returned control of the scene to mill employees.

According to Beezley, the fire was not completely out when crews turned control over to the paper mill.

Craft said on Saturday that the mill was able to put the fire completely out on Wednesday night but will continue to monitor for any signs of continued smoldering.

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