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Fire at Brownville paper mill leaves workers in limbo

Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 6:14 AM EST
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BROWNVILLE, New York (WWNY) - Fire damaged Neenah Paper in the town of Brownville early Friday morning and it’s unclear when its 80 employees could get back to work.

The call came in a little after 5 a.m. Someone reported seeing flames above an exhaust fan on the roof. Fire was showing above the roof by the time firefighters arrived.

Neenah officials said all 16 employees inside were evacuated safely.

Officials said the bitterly cold temperatures slowed their efforts when water lines froze on their trucks. Nearby hydrants worked fine, though.

“The biggest toll is on the guys that are working. They get covered in ice quickly; it’s more exhausting; it’s heavier weight. It’s already heavy enough as it is and then you got to watch your slips, trips and falls - all that kind of ice buildup and stuff,” said Brownville Town Fire Department Chief Ryan McIntosh.

A majority of the fire was knocked down by around 7 a.m. and crews began chasing hot spots.

“We had it pretty well contained within 30 to 45 minutes and after that it was a lot of overhaul,” McIntosh said. “Later in the morning, we found that it started to get into the membrane of the roof a little bit, so we did have to spend some time cutting chunks of the roof out, good amount of chunks as far as we could do that was safe for us to operate up there still.”

Bridge Street, where the paper company is located, was closed to traffic while crews were at work.

There’s no word on the status of plant operations, but fire officials say there’s substantial water damage inside the building.

Company officials say they’re still assessing the damage inside and hope to be operational again in the near future. In the meantime, they say they’re working with their employees.

Fire investigators were on the seen looking for a cause. Officials say the fire appeared to have started above several dryer units.

Firefighters from Town of Brownville, Glen Park, Sackets Harbor, and the town and city of Watertown were at the scene.

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