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Update: ‘Nothing short of a miracle’ no one injured in explosion

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[Update April 16, 9:10 a.m.] – Residents are being asked not to pick up debris from yesterday’s mill explosion until Maine Department of Environmental Protection provides guidance regarding whether the wood fiber is safe to touch. That guidance is expected sometime today, according to information provided by Jay Fire & Rescue Chief Booker.

At this time there is no concern with air quality issues associated with the explosion.

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Roxie Lassetter, Human Resources Manager for Pixelle Specialty Solutions, right, and Sgt. Joel Davis, left in the foreground, discussed Wednesday’s explosion at a press conference held in front of the Jay Municipal Building

[Update 5:35 p.m.] JAY – No one was killed or seriously injured in an explosion at the Androscoggin Mill Wednesday, with a spokesperson saying that a pressure vessel in the pulp mill’s digester apparently ruptured shortly before noon.

Human Resources Manager Roxie Lassetter with Pixelle Specialty Solutions’ Androscoggin Mill said that the incident occurred at 11:55 a.m. Wednesday. Lassetter said that Pixelle was in a preliminary stage of assessing the situation, but that everyone at the mill was accounted for and uninjured, something she called “nothing short of a miracle, and we are grateful.”

The explosion sent debris hundreds of feet into the air above the mill, showering the town in what Lassetter said was a mixture of wood fiber, water and chemicals associated with the digester process. Mill personnel as well as the Maine Department of Environmental Protection are currently evaluating the potential environmental impact of the explosion.

Sgt. Joel Davis with the Office of the State Fire Marshal said that his office would begin investigating the incident tomorrow morning, allowing the mill’s emergency response team time to secure the site. The digester was significantly damaged in the explosion, Davis said, and a small fire was burning on the roof of the mill when first responders arrived at the scene. Responding agencies included state, county and local law enforcement, personnel from seven fire departments, Franklin County Emergency Management Agency and several NorthStar EMS ambulances. First responders also established a Lifeflight landing area in the parking lot of a nearby Hannaford, but that area was later cleared after no serious injuries were reported.

Property damage caused by the explosion was constrained to the mill itself, Davis said, and officials had not received reports regarding damage outside of the mill.

Davis said that a couple of individuals were treated and released for minor respiratory issues relating to the dust thrown into the air by the explosion.

The mill employs roughly 500 people Lassetter said, with between 165 and 175 employees during a day shift at any given time. “No one was in the immediate vicinity [of the digester],” Lassetter said. “That was certainly helpful.”

“We promptly implemented our on-site emergency protocols,” Lassetter said. “We have a very well-trained staff. These local agencies reported very quickly and absolutely professional manner. We appreciate that.”

In response to a question, Lassetter it was too early in the process to know what the impact of the explosion would be on the mill’s operations.

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First responders waiting at the Hannaford parking lot with LifeFlight helicopters. The helicopters later cleared the area after no injuries were reported.

[Update 2:44 p.m.] – Maine Department of Public Safety spokesperson Steve McCausland said Wednesday afternoon that all employees and contractors associated with the Pixelle Mill have been accounted for and no injuries have been reported at this time.

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The Androscoggin mill, seen from the other side of the river.

JAY – An explosion at Androscoggin Mill was reported Wednesday afternoon.

The mill was sold by Verso Corporation to Pennsylvania-based Pixelle Specialty Solutions LLC earlier this year. It employed roughly 500 workers at the time of the transfer.

Governor Janet Mills released a statement saying that officials with the Department of Public Safety are on scene along with first responders. Mills is urging people to stay as far away as possible from the site, located at 300 Riley Road.

Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere said in an email that she couldn’t report anything on the explosion at the mill except that there was an explosion and that emergency responders were on the scene.

“We ask for everyone’s continued prayers through this and will update information once it is available,” LaFreniere said. “We are also asking that you stay away from the area and allow the crews to work.”

State and U.S. representatives reacted to the news Wednesday with sadness and pledges of support. State Rep. Tina Riley (D – Jay) said she was “devastated” by the news of the explosion and grateful to first responders.

“Right now my mind is on my friends and neighbors who either work at the mill or have family there. I am ready to do whatever is needed to support them and our entire community,” Riley said.

U.S. Senator Susan Collins said she was praying for the safety of the mill workers and others in the vicinity of the explosion.

“I thank all of the brave first responders who have rushed to the scene to assist,” Collins said. “The extent of the damage isn’t yet clear, but we do know that our neighbors in the community of Jay and the surrounding areas need our support.”

This story will be updated.

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