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Second fire at Port Townsend Paper mill under investigation

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. (From news reports) -- Fire broke out again at the Port Townsend Paper Corp. earlier this month, and the mill is still investigating the cause, general manager Nick Nachbar said.

This was the mill's second blaze in as many months, although it was not as severe as the Jan. 22 fire that wrought $500,000 in damage, according to the East Jefferson Fire Rescue report.

First responders from the mill assisted EJFR in extinguishing both fires. No one was hurt in either incident.

The January blaze, which sent black smoke into the sky over Port Townsend Bay, started with the full involvement of a 200-yard wood-chip conveyor belt on the mill's water side. Responding firefighters found a compromised fire sprinkler system with a part missing, EJFR Chief Bret Black said afterward.

"There's room for improvement," Black said of the sprinklers.

Nachbar, when asked about the sprinkler system in early February, declined comment, saying the mill was still investigating.

"We want to commend Port Townsend Paper Corporation and East Jefferson Fire and Rescue first responders for their efforts that minimized the extent of the blaze," he wrote in an email.

The more recent fire on the morning of March 12 started in a second-floor conveyor belt.

The mill foreman said the crew was "unable to extinguish it due to its location and the inability to stretch their hose lines to it," EJFR Battalion Chief Justin Fletcher wrote in the incident report.

When EJFR's crews got to the second floor, "we located active fire on the conveyor belt, approximately 4×4 foot pile of sawdust/rubber belting and grease from the roller bearings, with various small spot fires of the same material located up and down the conveyor belt," added EJFR Lt. Rick Martin.

EJFR extinguished the fire and cleared its last response unit in less than 90 minutes.

The initial report noted the incident's cause was under investigation.

Last Friday, Black declared the cause undetermined, though he added that "there was a hot motor in the area along with the wood chips."

Nachbar, when asked last week whether anything had been learned -- in terms of fire prevention and response -- from the two fires, gave a response similar to the one he sent after the January blaze.

"Port Townsend Paper Corporation employees and East Jefferson Fire and Rescue first responders did a commendable job in quickly minimizing the fire that occurred on March 12th," Nachbar wrote.

"It started in an unused portion of the old wood mill area and was unrelated to any prior event; most importantly no personnel were injured. Operations were not impacted and the cause of the fire is under investigation."

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