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(NECN: Amy Sinclair, West Paris, Maine) - A former clothes pin factory in western Maine went up in flames Tuesday morning. But for firefighters, the bigger concern was what was right next door: thousands of cases of fireworks.
Troy Billings was working an early morning plow shift in West Paris when he saw the first flames coming from his rear view mirror.
"There were flames, probably 70-80 feet in the air and heavy black smoke," said Billings.
What he saw was the old Penley Mill, the largest building in town according to the fire chief, going up in flames.
"When we arrived it was already fully engulfed spreading fast into the metal building," said Norm St. Pierre, West Paris fire chief.
Pierre says what they were most concerned about was the smaller building just a few feet away from the 17,000-square foot warehouse: "Aah" Fireworks retail store.
Both the retail store and adjacent trailers were loaded with cases of fireworks.
Crews from 12 surrounding towns worked to keep flames away from the explosives and help haul hundreds of feet of hose to a nearby river when the hydrant system went dry.
For the leaseholders, the real loss is more personal. The family of six had just moved all their belongings from New Hampshire to store in the warehouse until they bought a home. It all destroyed, along with tools, heavy equipment and a boat.
Lydia Mills, co-owner of the fireworks business, says she and her partner, Andre Vandenbulcke, had planned to use the warehouse to store fireworks for the wholesale end of the business, but fortunately there were no fireworks there at the time to add fuel to the already raging fire.
"We're very thankful no one was hurt,” said Mills. “I thank every one of them.”
The Maine fire marshal's office is now left with the task of determining where the fire started and what sparked the blaze that brought down one of the best known buildings in West Paris.