Verso: Fire at idled mill caused by lightning

Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 9:16 PM CDT
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Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. (WSAW) - A spokesman from Verso Corporation said the cause of a fire Tuesday night at the Wisconsin Rapids mill appears to have been caused by lightning.

The company released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying around 7:30 p.m. lightning appeared to have struck the scrubber stack at the idled mill. “There were no employee injuries, and damage was limited to a non-operating area of the mill. We’re incredibly thankful to our on-site team’s professionalism and the Wisconsin Rapids Fire Department for their swift response.”

The Wisconsin Rapids Fire Department said around 60 firefighters responded to the scene.

Wisconsin Rapids Deputy Fire Chief Todd Eckes said fire and heat compromised the stack causing a collapse, which then started subsequent fires in and around the digester tower.

One firefighter was treated and released on the scene for symptoms of heat exhaustion.

The fire was under control at approximately 9:45 p.m.

Eckes said damage assessment is ongoing and it appears the damage was limited to the stack area in the number 1 digester building. The cause is undetermined at this time.

Crews from Port Edwards Fire, Grand Rapids Fire, Biron Fire, Nekoosa Fire, Vesper Fire, Rudolph Fire, and the Wisconsin Rapids Police Department and Saratoga First Responders. A former employee of the mill says the fire was in the Kraft Mill where wood chips were cooked into pulp.

The paper mill was opened in 1904. It was Wisconsin Rapids’ largest employer until it was shut down in the summer of 2020. Two lawmakers were working on a bill to used federal funds to help a potential buyer purchase the facility.

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