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Fire destroys West Paris warehouse
FULLY INVOLVED — Firefighters from several towns battled a fire at the old Penley Mill in West Paris around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, which engulfed the building and spread to another structure on the property, said West Paris Fire Chief Norm St. Pierre. According to St. Pierre, a fireworks retail store, AAH Fireworks, owned by Andre Vandenbulcke, did not catch on fire, but the warehouse, that Vandenbulcke was preparing to open as a fireworks distribution center, was destroyed. The cause is still being investigated, he said.
DOUSING — Firefighters from Paris continue to douse a structure Tuesday by the old Penley Mill in West Paris. The mill went up in flames around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Norway Fire Chief Dennis Yates said the heat emitted from the main warehouse, where the fire originated, caught a nearby building on fire, but firefighters from several towns had the fire under control within two hours.
WEST PARIS — The old Penley Mill on Route 219 went up in flames early Tuesday morning, requiring manpower from several nearby towns to knock it down, said Norway Fire Chief Dennis Yates.
A public works employee and firefighter, Troy Billings, saw a glow in his rearview mirror while plowing High Street, and reported the fire.
The 800-square-foot warehouse and a 17,000-square-foot addition, in the midst of being renovated as a fireworks distribution center, is operated by Andre Vandenbulcke, who opened his fireworks business, AAH Fireworks, on the property last June, said West Paris Fire Chief Norm St. Pierre.
The buildings are located near the intersection of Penley Avenue and Greenwood Street/Rte. 219.
According to St. Pierre, crews were called to the fully involved fire around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday and were expected to remain on scene by late afternoon.
"We'll be on scene most of the day," he said.
St. Pierre said firefighters had the blaze under control within two hours and had it completely extinguished by 7:30 a.m. Firefighters were still on scene around 11 a.m. to douse hot spots and make sure the fire was completely out.
No fireworks were stored in the mill at the time of the fire, St. Pierre said. However, firefighters suspected some chemicals were inside the building so the HazMat Regional Response Team was dispatched to handle the material.
A smaller building, located about 50 feet away from the main warehouse, also caught on fire from the intense [heat] radiation the main building was emitting, said Chief Yates.
"This is a major event," Yates said.
The fire began around the two-and-a-half-story building attached to the main warehouse, said St. Pierre, where barrels of old, dusty, wooden clothespins were being stored, as well as some furniture, which fueled the fire.
A retail store and another building, located about 40 feet from the burning structure, where fireworks were being stored, did not catch on fire, nor were either in danger of burning, said Paris Deputy Fire Chief Willie Buffington.
"West Paris [firefighters] did a good job to stop it," Yates said.
"It was a heavy fire load," he said.
St. Pierre said firefighters had exhausted the hydrant system in town and had to pump water from two separate locations along the Little Androscoggin River.
"We had such a limited water supply up here, that we had to seek alternate sources of water," Yates said.
Yates said he used a thermal imaging device to detect remaining hot spots, which worked "unbelievably well."
According to reports, the building was valued at $168,400.
"This is his life," St. Pierre said, of Vandenbulcke's undertaking at the mill, where he had just recently poured concrete to get the mill ready for business.
St. Pierre said the biggest concern was the mill's large smoke stack collapsing. The smoke stack did not catch on fire and remained intact throughout the event.
Fire departments from Andover, Dixfield, Turner, Mechanic Falls, Bridgton, Waterford, Hebron, Mexico, Rumford, Norway, Oxford, Paris, West Paris, Greenwood, Woodstock and Poland worked together to put out the fire.
Investigators from the State Fire Marshal's Office were on scene Tuesday afternoon to investigate the cause.
According to a 1978 Sun Journal story by Steve Libby, Penley Mill was the home of Penley's wooden snap clothespin, "the Cadillac of clothespins" as they were known in the trade. Back in its day, the mill had a workforce of 110 to 130 and was the backbone of West Paris.
The mill a family-owned business, was started in 1923 by L.H, W.E. and F.R. Penley, three brothers.
The major facilities for the nation's only clothespin manufacturers has been Maine and Penley was the largest exclusive clothespin mill in the United States.
The company manufactured 600,000 clothespins daily. The Penley brand and American Maid brand were sold nationwide.
The mill turned huge logs into clothespins and was a pioneer for its time in responsible manufacturing, wasting no part of the log. Bark, waste wood and shavings were used in its boilers. Larger slabs and edgings were chipped, bagged and trucked to paper companies. Bags of sawdust were shipped to Boston and New York to be used on barroom floors, meat-packing floors and to be used in the cleaning of furs.
The mill was sited along the Grand Trunk-Canadian Railroad tracks and its offices also housed a grocery store, post office and shops.
Generation after generation of families worked at the mill. The clothespins the mill manufactured were about three-and-a-half inches long. If laid end to end, one day's production of clothespins would stretch some 9,000 miles, one-third of the way around the world at the equator.