Friday, November 14, 2003

Wind-Fed Fire at Mill Destroys 13 Homes

The Associated Press


PAWTUCKET, R.I.- A raging, wind-whipped fire that began in an abandoned textile mill destroyed 13 homes and ignited buildings over a 10-block radius Friday.

Winds up to 45 mph had hampered firefighters' efforts to control the fire, which was brought under control more than four hours after it started.

Eleven people were being evaluated for injuries, including a firefighter. Five people were admitted to a nearby hospital, but their conditions were not available.

The fire started in the Greenhalgh Mills complex and spread at least five blocks east and five blocks south, setting fire to homes along the way while sparing others.

"The wind is killing us," police Lt. John Clarkson said.

Some residents hosed down their houses to save them from blowing embers.

Around the block from the fire, Jean Langborg, 53, had tossed her crutches aside and was busily sweeping leaves away from her house with a broom.

"I just got through a divorce, and I'm trying to keep the house, and I'm not about to lose it to a fire," she said as embers floated around her.

One resident, David Williams, arrived home from work to find his neighborhood on fire. The smoke was so thick, he said, he couldn't see down the street to his house. Williams, 45, had yet to speak with his wife.

"I got to find the wife," he said frantically. "Hopefully, she got the cat out, too."

Students from an elementary school a block away covered their noses and mouths against the smoke as they left school.

Thousands in town lost power, and as many as 200 people were evacuated from the neighborhood.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known. Asbestos abatement had been completed at the mill, but fire officials did not know whether the building contained any hazardous chemicals.

The mill closed in 1998. Woodhall Weaving Mills, which was owned by Greenhalgh Mills, produced acetate, a silky fabric used in linings for coats and dresses.

The property was slated for conversion into a shopping complex, including a grocery store.

Photo Below
A house, right, next to the Greenhalgh Mills complex, left, is destroyed by flames after strong winds blew embers onto it, Friday, Nov. 14, 2003, in Pawtucket, R.I. The main building at the comples collapsed late Friday afternoon as firefighters continued to battle a wind-whipped fire that leveled several other buildings, including residential homes nearby, authorities said. No injuries were reported, but several blocks of residential homes were evacuated, said Pawtucket police Lt. John Clarkson. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)