SARTELL -- A new fire fighting effort's underway at the Verso Paper Mill in Sartell to finally put out a fire that's  been burning for over three days.

An explosion rocked the plant late Monday morning, killing one worker and hurting five others.


At a news conference at Sartell City Hall this afternoon, Fire Chief Ken Heim says fire crews are still fighting hot spots.

In a coordinated effort with Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad, crews are excavating structural steel and removing large rolls of paper that have been feeding the ongoing fire.

Heim says he was in the building and damage  to the finished paper warehouse is extensive "It's horrendous," he says.  "It's very, very bad."

Heim says the roof has collapsed, structural beams have fallen and there's much damage.
Heim says fire crews from 39 departments have used some 4-million gallons of water to fight the fire.

Heim says the State Fire Marshall's Office is on scene to investigate the cause of the explosion.  There are media reports quoting company officials as saying a large air compressor exploded, but no cause has been determined.

Heim says officials are releasing sections of the plant back to the company as those areas are deemed to be not a fire threat.  He says the main paper machine is in "fairly good shape."

Sartell City Manager Patti Gartland says as the fire is put out, the event is transitioning to a demolition and reconstruction effort.  She says a community resources team has been formed to work with Verso officials to help the company reopen the plant as soon as possible.

Plant manager Matt Archambeau responded earlier in the week by saying plant officials are taking things day by day.

Gartland says another news briefing will happen on Friday, though a time hasn't been set yet.  Gartland says fire response officials and Verso plant manager Archambeau are expected to be at that briefing.

UPDATE:  An 8 a.m. Friday news briefing's been scheduled.  WJON News will be there and we'll broadcast and stream the news conference live from Sartell City Hall. We intend to offer that news conference audio on-demand on, as well.


Hear the complete news briefing from Thursday afternoon now. It begins with Sartell City Manager Patti Gartland recapping the event up to this point.

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