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One Dead, Five Injured in Sartell Paper Mill Explosion, Fire

One Dead, Five Injured in Sartell Paper Mill Explosion, Fire Click to Enlarge Photo: Brad Veenstra

May 28, 2012 at 11:57 am

SARTELL, Minn. (KNSI) - One person was killed and five others injured as a large explosion tore through a portion of Sartell's Verso Paper Mill Monday, sparking a fire that brought fire crews from several area departments to battle the blaze, Sartell city leaders said.

The fire was about 90 percent contained by 7:00 p.m. Monday, Sartell city administrator Patti Gartland said.  Sartell Fire Chief Ken Heim called it probably the biggest fire in Sartell's city history.

The incident started around 11:20 a.m. when an explosion went off in part of the 106-year-old plant, Gartland said.  Verso spokesman Pat Gibney told the St. Cloud Times the fire started when an air compressor unit exploded.

Within minutes, the fire was roaring through an area of the plant used to house paper bales.  Large plumes of thick black smoke were pumping out of the building and were visible for miles around.

Gartland said one person was killed and five others were injured in the incident.  The names of the victims were not immediately released. Three of the four injured were treated and released from St. Cloud Hospital, CentraCare communications director Jeanine Nistler said.  Fifty workers were on hand working at the plant at the time of the explosion, Heim said.

By 7 p.m. Monday, the fire had collapsed much of the plant's warehouse facility, making the structure very unstable, Heim said.

Crews from 14 area fire departments were called in to combat the flames, Gartland said.  Responding units were dispatched from Avon, Sartell, Holdingford, Rockville, Rice, St. Cloud, St. Stephen, and St. Augusta. Area law enforcement was also working to contain the area, including Sartell, Sauk Rapids, St. Joseph and Waite Park police as well as deputies with the Stearns and Benton County Sheriff's offices.

The Department of Natural Resources also carried out 10 water drops on the facility to help put out the blaze.  Nearby residents were notified via reverse 911 calls. 

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