WILLIMANTIC, Conn. (WTNH) –Firefighters from 12 departments all over the state are continuing to battle a massive fire at Willimantic Waste and Paper Company. Willimantic’s Fire Chief Marc Shrivener said crews will be on scene all night Sunday and into the day Monday.
Beginning around 10 a.m. Sunday morning, plumes of thick, black smoke could be seen for miles rising in the sky. Witnesses say they heard small explosions before seeing flames, although the cause of the fire is still being investigated.
Firefighters say 400 tons of paper plus garbage and construction materials burned in the fire at the 100,000 square foot recycling facility.
About 200 people work at Willimantic Waste, which serves most of eastern Connecticut. The building is a total loss and it’s still unclear what the hundreds of employees will do come Monday.
Firefighter say they will try to preserve as much of the business office as they can in the building. They hope they can salvage some business records so the company has somewhere to pick up.
Officials say the debris from inside the facility is so contaminating that firefighters have to be hosed off after working to remove harmful chemicals.
“We are scrubbing them down when they come out to make sure they don’t take that contamination home with them,” Chief Marc Shrivener said.
One firefighter and one worker were taken to Willimantic Hospital for minor injuries. Authorities says both cases were out of an abundance of caution.
Jeff Chandler with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is urging people to stay inside and keep their windows and doors closed because of air quality.
“We found some levels of concern as far as some of the toxic gases that were leaving the property,” Chandler said.
In addition, firefighters are asking people in town to avoid using water if unnecessary because of the strain fighting the fire is taking on the community’s resources.
Chief Shrivener said crews have faced several challenges, including air quality concerns and the water supply.
“Due to the building, we have some difficulties and cannot fight the fire from inside and have to attack the fire from the outside,” Chief Shrivener said.
Route 66 and Route 32 will remain closed in Willimantic indefinitely. Several businesses along the stretch are also in the dark.
Eastern Connecticut State University, Windham Public Schools, Windham Technical High School and St. Mary-St. Joseph School will be closed Monday January 28th due to the fire debris, smoke and closed roads in the area.
At this time there is still no word on the cause of this fire.
Watch the video above to see the press conference from Sunday night.