RUSSELL, Mass. (WWLP) – The cause of the fire at the former Strathmore Paper Mill in Russell that started Tuesday has been determined.
State Department of Fire Services Spokesperson Jake Wark told 22News that at around 4:30 p.m. the fire was accidentally started with an oxygen-acetylene torch being used by the building’s owner, Donald Voudren. The welding device ignited combustible materials in the area of a catwalk between 268 Woronoco Rd. and another mill building across the street.
Several fire departments assisted in putting out the fire due to the lack of water in the area. A task force was set up to shuttle water to the area. The first building is a total loss and the second building was damaged according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
The owner was issued a notice of violation for the failure to comply with the Massachusetts Comprehensive Fire Safety Code. Wark says that a permit is required for the use of an oxy-acetylene torch and that step could have prevented the building from becoming a total loss.
“The State Fire Code requires a permit for cutting, welding, and other hot work,” said State Fire Marshal Ostroskey. “A fire that started with unpermitted hot work claimed two firefighters’ lives in 2014, and we’re extremely fortunate that no one was injured or worse during this incident.”
“I want to thank the men and women of the Russell Fire Department, our mutual aid partners, and local and regional law enforcement for their assistance late into the night,” said Chief Renauld. “Today, I want to remind our residents and businesses that cutting, welding, and other hot work require a permit in advance through the local fire department. Taking that simple step would have ensured adequate safety measures such as a fire watch at the scene and could have saved the property owner from a total loss.”
The investigation was conducted by the Russell Fire Department, Russell Police Department, and State Police Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit.