On scene, Monadnock Paper Mills Vice President of Human Resources Bill Peterson said the fire was caused by overheated ball bearings in a fan above one of the paper machines. The fan is above the mill’s machinery and is part of the buildings venting and cooling system.
The building is equipped with a sprinkler system, which was activated until fire crews arrived and were able to get the fire under control.
There were roughly 25 employees in the area where the fire started, Peterson said, who activated the fire protocols before evacuating with the entirety of the rest of the plant.
Peterson said the Monadnock Paper Mill’s 200 employees have multiple fire drills every year, and were able to follow those plans, and account for everyone.
“Folks got out when they were told to get out, and everything worked the way it was supposed to,” Peterson said. “This is why we do this.”
Bennington Deputy Fire Chief Keith Nason said when crews first arrived, they got the initial fire under control quickly, but then discovered the fire had spread into the ceiling, at which point he called for a second alarm.
“With an older building like this, which is very segmented, it can spread very quickly through the vent system, which it started in,” Nason said.
Fire crews remained on scene until noon, checking for fire burning in the ceiling or vents.
Peterson said he didn’t know how much damage had been caused yet, but said he had spoken with Antrim Fire Chief Marshall Gale, a former long-time employee of the plant, who knew the machinery and was assured repairs could likely be done in a few days.
“From that, we’re assuming the damage was minimal,” Peterson said. “We may have smoke damage and a whole lot of water to mop up.”
Peterson said the Paper Mill is not shut down, and that most employees would be able to return to work after the power – shut off during firefighting operations – was returned to the building. Before fire crews left the property maintenance staff had already been allowed to re-enter the building to assess the damage.
“We give our thanks to all the fire departments who showed up. It was a quick response, and very much appreciated by the 200 employees we have here,” Peterson said.
Bennington crews were assisted on the scene by fire crews from Antrim, Peterborough, Hillsborough, Hancock and Greenfield.