Crews respond to unattended campfire at old mill in Watertown, find belongings

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 1:37 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Was it a homeless person, or someone camping out? Whichever it was, their campfire early Wednesday morning brought a problem to the attention of Watertown city officials. A problem they plan to fix.

Early Wednesday city firefighters and police were called to Mill Street. Smoke had been spotted coming up the riverbank.

The smoke came from down a very steep embankment, where an old industrial facility sits. All below ground, it extends way back from the riverbank beneath a parking lot.

Watertown’s chief code enforcer, Dana Aikins, took a guess at what it is.

“It appears to be an old foundation, most likely from an old mill that was powered off the river,” Aikins said. “I’m guessing it was used to transmit the water power through belts and pulleys up to probably an upper floor.”

The smoke was coming from someone’s fire inside the structure. There were slices of pizza, needles, and bags of clothing among other things. Aikins called it a hazard.

“I think the bigger problem is it would be hard to know if something happened to somebody down there because of the limited access. If one or two people get in there and run into a problem, no one may be aware for quite awhile that anyone is there,” Aikins said.

From the opening on the riverbank, the foundation extends back farther than most people would care to venture. Some have said possibly all the way across to the north branch of the Black River. Aikins says the opening at least, appears to belong to a hydropower company in Massachusetts. They’ll be getting a call.

“We’re going to work with the owner to actually get the opening closed up so that nobody else can go back in there,” Aikins said.

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