Massive fire under control at Willimantic Waste Paper Co., area schools closed

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WILLIMANTIC, Conn. (WTNH)– The massive fire at a waste paper company in Willimantic was brought under control by 6:00 a.m. Monday, according to officials. However, area schools were closed and neighbors were advised to stay inside.

The blaze sparked around 10 a.m. Sunday and continued through the day and night.

Large plumes of smoke could be seen for miles Sunday. Fourteen area fire departments came to help Willimantic put out the flames at the Willimantic Waste Paper Company.Original Story: Willimantic Waste Paper Co. fire expected to burn through Sunday night

Just to give you an idea of how large it is, crews say 400 tons of paper and construction materials fit in the facility which is almost as big as two football fields.

That material provided fuel for the fire. The clean-up continued throughout Monday.

“It really is just a matter of pulling the equipment, pulling the debris rather out of the building with the heavy equipment and cooling it down,” said Willimantic Fire Chief Marc Scrivener.

The run-off is causing some contamination of the nearby Willimantic River.

“DEEP fisheries division is inspecting the river at some point today to determine whether or not there is any adverse reaction as a result of the impact to the water,” said Jeff Chandler with the Connecticut Department Of Energy And Environmental Protection (DEEP).Related Content: Local diner helps crews as the Willimantic fire burns 24 hours later

There were initial concerns about air quality when the rubber membrane on the roof burned, but with much of the smoke cleared by the south-blowing wind, schools cancelled Monday will reopen Tuesday. Officials with DEEP are now saying this smoke is only health risk for those with respiratory problems.

Firefighters are also taking precautions.

“They’re getting hosed down, they’re getting scrubbed down with chemicals that are getting rid of all the caustic agents,” said Lt. Reginald Hansen of the New London Fire Department.

New London firefighters are running the decontamination system.

“Anything that burns leaves a residue that is potentially cancer-causing and so we want to make sure that our firefighters don’t take that off the scene,” said Chief Scrivener.

The fire won’t interrupt trash collection. About 200 people work at the facility and they still went to work.

“They left here at 5:00 a.m. this morning with their garbage trucks. They’re going to be taking it to a different facility to sort the garbage and reload it and they’ll continue doing that until they get a new facility is up and running here,” said Matt Vertefeuille, Spokesperson for the town of Windham.

Public schools were closed Monday, as well as Eastern Connecticut State University.

One worker and one firefighter were taken to Willimantic Hospital with minor injuries.

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