Firefighters battle a blaze at the old Abitibi paper mill

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - By Holley Nees - bio | email

LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - It's been shut down for years, but Wednesday firefighters worked to save a closed paper mill from going up in flames.

After battling the massive structure fire at Abitibi-Consolidated on State Highway 103 East in Lufkin for nearly two hours, fire officials say the blaze is under control.

"The main thing is safety," said Nacogdoches Fire Department Captain Myrick Richards. "Knowing that the plant wasn't operational, just making sure that the crew that was in there would come on out."

A staging area set up at Abitibi helped fire officials form a plan of attack.

"We are expecting to have a longer operation than many, so we have actually got a staging area and we have a rehab area and in fact, we're using one of the structures here as a rehabilitation area," said Lufkin Assistant Fire Marshal Steve McCool.

Lufkin Fire Marshal LeeFran Skelton said the fire began in a 30' by 40' laboratory office area inside the building. A crew was using a cutting device while demolishing the office, which sparked the fire.

There was a small crew of contractors inside the facility, but they were able to make it out unharmed. None of the residents in the area had to evacuate.

Emergency crews were called to the area around 11:37 a.m.  About 65 first responders worked the scene.  Emergency crews came from Lufkin Fire Department, Lufkin Police Department, Nacogdoches Fire Department, Huntington Volunteer Fire Department, Hudson Volunteer Fire Department, Ora Volunteer Fire Department, Rivercrest/Redland Volunteer Fire Department, Fuller Springs Volunteer Fire Department, and Central Volunteer Fire Department.

The fire was contained to one building, but initially first responders had trouble with the water supply.

"We did have to cut down the supply temporarily until we could get some propane tanks out of the facility that were threatened," said McCool.

The problem was fixed and firefighters began rotating-in to battle the blaze.

For the first time, a mutual aid agreement between neighboring cities was put to good use.

"We just got the radio systems now in Nacogdoches to where in Nacogdoches, we can hear when they go on any kind of fire calls or anything like that," said Richard. "So, if we hear, just like these guys told me they heard that Lufkin was coming here to this fire, well they just put everybody on alert in Nacogdoches."

The agreement was made a year ago between Lufkin and Nacogdoches, but the paper mill fire was the first incident they fought together.

"We're good friends with a lot of the guys," said Richard. "We've gone to school, we've gone to classes with them, so it's just like us helping out another friend."

Nacogdoches Fire Department also put extra crews on standby while they were helping the Lufkin firefighters.

McCool said authorities monitored the chlorine levels at the waste water treatment plant at the facility.  He said all of the run-off, including the water used to fight the fire, would go into the on-site waste water treatment plant so it would not end up contaminating local creeks.

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