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Heat and fire at Richmond paper mill challenge fire crews

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)–A white wall of smoke, stifling temperatures and a three alarm fire.

Richmond fire crews had their hands full Thursday afternoon, battling a complicated blaze at the Sonoco paper mill in South Richmond.

The heat was rising off Commerce Road.  You may have noticed, there has been a lot of that lately. Thursday the heat shattered a record set in Richmond in 1990, with temperatures hitting 102 degrees.

But Thursday, with a white wall of smoke shrouding the area near Royall, things were downright dangerous.  Firefighters had to stop periodically for a cooling cloth and a few moments of air conditioning on a nearby GRTC bus.

“The third alarm was pulled so we could bring a rehab company in, because it looked like we would be out here for awhile,” said Battalion Chief David Creasy.

Streams of water doused bails of recycled paper and cardboard.  Fire officials say the fire broke out around two p.m. and the wind kept blowing burning embers, igniting other fires nearby.

“I saw the flames,” said George Rinick, a safety manager at Liberty across the street.  He said the thick smoke drove him back inside.  “All of this [area] was white.  You couldn’t see the building.”

Firefighters say it was lucky the paper mill building itself never caught fire and they were able to contain the flames to the recycling bales.  After hours of sifting through smoldering debris, crews managed to put the fire completely out.  

Firefighters say looking back on the incident; it could easily have been a whole lot worse.  “Thank goodness it’s an industrial area and not residential,” said Creasy.

Richmond fire officials say they are still investigating what caused the fire to start.

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