AUGUSTA, Georgia (From news reports) -- The Orchids Paper Mill suffered two fires in less than 30 hours, in what fire officials are calling "preventable" fires.
Firefighters from the Barnwell City Fire Department responded to the paper plant around 4 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4 for a reported fire in the mill's Yankee machine which produces the large parent paper rolls that are later turned into various paper products. Firefighters did not have to utilize hoses and water because the fire was already out upon arrival, so they only provided consultation and used thermal imaging cameras to ensure the fire was out. Only a moderate amount of smoke was present, said Barnwell Fire Chief Tony Dicks.
"Plant employees had performed well to suppress the fire in the paper machine and continued to search and extinguish any hidden embers," said Dicks.
Dicks said the fire was caused by a lack of maintenance in the machine due to paper fibers that had built up. Dicks said it's well-known in the paper manufacturing business that it's not a matter of if a fire will occur, but when it will. Small fires have occured before in the machine and are usually quickly extinguished by worker, but this one was a little larger and led workers to call firefighters to ensure it didn't get out of hand.
The fire caused minimal damage and paper production resumed later that day.
However, the next morning (Monday, Nov. 5) around 10:19 a.m., firefighters were again called to the paper plant. This time the fire was reported to be on the roof.
Firefighters found a glowing red ceiling inside the mill portion of the plant. They used 600 feet of hose and the department's ladder truck to reach the ceiling in order to extinguish the slow-moving flames that were on the insulation, ceiling and walls, said Dicks.
Monday's fire was caused by maintenance work involving welding that a contractor was doing. This sparked dust and lint particles, said Dicks.
Major damage was again avoided, but some repairs will have to be made, he said. Dicks said it is a good feeling to be able to help prevent major damage to a local industry that provides many jobs and help the local economy.
Dicks said these fires were preventable. He will meet with Orchids officials soon to discuss possible solutions for the future.
Dicks credits his trained firefighters and the training they have done with Orchids previously that helped prepare them for how to handle a fire in the mill.
"I'm proud of our fire department once again as they responded with three engines, a rescue truck and a ladder truck. For all those firefighters in our county who were monitoring the call and stood ready from home should we have found deteriorating conditions, thanks for being at the ready," said Dicks.