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Fire in paper machines and in roof at Huhtamaki facility draws huge response

WATERVILLE, Maine (From news reports) -- Firefighters from about 15 communities were working late into Tuesday night at the Huhtamaki paper products facility on the Waterville-Fairfield line, where a large fire was burning in the paper machines below the roof, according to Waterville fire Chief Shawn Esler.

When firefighters arrived at the scene of the fire, reported at 5:26 p.m. on College Avenue in Waterville and Main Street in Fairfield, flames were showing from the roof of the long two-story building, which was being evacuated.

At 8 p.m., Esler said at the scene there was still fire in the roof of the building and it was not yet under control.

"We do not have a cause for the fire at this time," he said. "The (state) fire marshal's office has been contacted."

Esler said a firefighter had been injured and was being evaluated in a local hospital emergency room. He said he did not know the extent of the firefighter's injuries or what fire department he was from.

Huhtamaki is a long brick building that makes a variety of products including paper drinking cups, plates and food packaging containers.

At the scene Tuesday night, firefighters worked inside the building and from the roof. Two ladder trucks from the Fairfield-Benton and Waterville fire departments were parked on either side of the building's main entrance, and firefighters climbed up and down the ladders, to and from the roof.

Many firetrucks with their lights flashing were parked along College Avenue in Waterville and Main Street in Fairfield, which were blocked to traffic. Waterville and Fairfield police were parked at either end of the Huhtamaki building. A Central Maine Fire Attack School truck was parked in front of the building. Four large Waterville school buses and a smaller one were also on hand, and firefighters and others went in and out of them to get warm, as it was about 10 degrees outside.

Firefighters' wives showed up with food, water and coffee for the fire crews.

Esler said the sprinkler system inside Huhtamaki was working and the company has an excellent evacuation plan and is responsive to fires.

"Huhtamaki has a great safety plan in place," he said.

Esler praised all the firefighters who were working at the scene in what became single-digit temperatures by about 8 p.m., when snow started to come down in light spurts.

"They're doing an excellent job," he said.

Firefighters from Waterville, Fairfield, Winslow, Sidney, Oakland, Skowhegan, Augusta, Albion, Clinton and other municipalities worked at the scene.

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