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Soundview Paper in Putney, Vermont damaged by fire, sprinkler system failed to work

PUTNEY, Vermont (From news reports) -- A fire of unknown origin broke out at the Soundview Paper Co. in downtown Putney on Friday afternoon, drawing dozens of firefighters from area departments to fight the blaze on a hot afternoon.

Caked-on paper dust prevented the plant's own sprinkler system from activating, said Putney Fire Chief Tom Goddard.

"In any paper mill, but certainly here, the number one, a big problem, is dealing with paper dust," the fire chief said. "The paper dust gets caked onto all the machinery, the roof, the wall coverings and also on the sprinkler system and the sprinkler heads," he said after the fire was brought under control.

Goddard said that he and other firefighters were returning to the station after another call Friday afternoon when they saw smoke and flames on the roof of the lower mill on Water Street, and he quickly called a second alarm, which brought in other departments for help. He said fire was in the plant's ductwork, as well as the roof, and damaged the roof rafters.

He said there was heavy smoke inside the building when firefighters got there, and flames on top of the flat-roofed building.

Goddard said only one Brattleboro firefighter was injured in the fire; he was taken to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital for heat-related problems. He said no Soundview employees were injured.

The chief said the paper mill turns waste or recycled paper and cardboard into consumer problems like paper napkins.

Temperatures were close to 90 on Friday afternoon, as an unusual spring heat wave hit Vermont on Thursday and continued Friday.

Goddard said fighting the fire was made more difficult by the unseasonable heat, and crews needed to be spelled because of the heat and humidity.

He said Putney has a pre-plan for fighting fires at the Putney mill, which has experienced fires in the past.

He stressed that he didn't know the cause of Friday afternoon's fire yet, as crews were picking up their equipment and preparing to leave the scene about an hour after the fire was discovered.

Goddard said he didn't know if the damage was so bad that the plant couldn't operate. He said he would be meeting with the plant manager later in the afternoon to go over those kinds of issues.

"There was a lot of heat inside, and it just doesn't relieve quickly at all whatsoever. The ambient temperatures are bad enough anyways, coupled with this heat today, made it more difficult" to fight the fire, he said.

"We run the risk of people getting tired out a lot quicker, running out of energy a lot quicker. We need more staff brought in to rotate folks and crews and that's exactly what we did," he said.

Three aerial ladder trucks, from Westminster, Brattleboro and Putney were used by firefighters, and there were crews from Westminster, Bellows Falls, Brattleboro, and Guilford, as well as crews from Walpole, N.H., North Walpole, N.H., Chesterfield, N.H., Spofford, N.H., Hinsdale, N.H., and Westmoreland, N.H., as well as Rescue Inc.

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