RUSSELL, Mass. (WWLP) – A fire at the former Strathmore Paper Mill in Russell that started Tuesday burned through the night and continued smoldering into the morning Wednesday.
According to the Russell-Montgomery Police Department, Woronoco Road will be closed indefinitely in the area of Mills 1&3 (from Old Route 23 to Hill Street) and will not reopen until the town confirms the remainder of the buildings are safe for the community to pass by. Woronoco Road can be accessed up to the closure from its respective side off of Route 23 (Westfield Road) on either side.
MAP: Woronco Road in Russell
The Russell-Montgomery Police Department was broadcasting live to its Facebook page overnight as firefighters from several departments worked to control the flames and demolish unsafe portions of the structure.
“We had the rest of it knocked down with an excavator for safety,” said Russell Fire Chief Edward Renauld.
Police warned nearby residents to avoid the area Tuesday afternoon. As the fire grew, assistance was called in from as far away as West Springfield.
State Department of Fire Services Spokesperson Jake Wark told 22News that the fire has drawn mutual aid from numerous departments, as well as tanker task forces to bring water to the area. The Department of Fire Services has deployed a Rehab unit to support personnel at the scene.
By the morning hours, the fire was contained but rubble continued to smolder and firefighters remained at the site to make sure debris does not reignite.
22News spoke with Karen McTaggart, a Russell resident who grew up driving through this paper mill complex. She’s saddened by this most recent fire, “Our families have a huge connection here. My dad worked here for 45 years. All our families have a lot of memories.”
Karen’s love for the community is so strong, she co-founded a local group called Hilltown Hikers. In 2021, the group did a historical tour through the paper mill complex.
“It just makes me so mad because these are historical, there’s just got to be a lot more respect for history,” said Karen.
Fires have been a common issue at the former mill property. Tuesday’s fire is the fifth fire there in just the past two years. The origin and cause are under investigation by Russell Fire Department and State Police Fire Investigators assigned to the State Fire Marshal’s office.
The property, located in the Woronoco section of Russell, had been purchased before the pandemic for $15,000, with plans to turn it into a cannabis business park. Those plans were scrapped during the pandemic. In April, plans were revealed that the mill site would be redeveloped into a residential, mixed-use area.
The police are reminding people not to enter the area of the fire or any of the remaining mill buildings, trespassers will be charged.