RI firefighters contain massive mill fire

A massive fire that destroyed a 112-year-old mill in northern Rhode Island was contained Wednesday morning, and fire officials said they would allow the structure to burn itself to the ground.

"Most of the building collapsed upon itself," Deputy Chief Michael Richardson told The Associated Press Wednesday morning. "We have it surrounded and are just wetting it down and surrounding the building."

Firefighters from up to 15 departments in Rhode Island and Massachusetts were called to a blaze at the former Alice Mills Rubber Manufacturing Plant in Woonsocket at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Alice Mills, just miles from the Massachusetts state line, was once considered the largest rubber goods factory in the world.

One firefighter was injured in a fall, Richardson said. His name and condition were not immediately released.

Smoke from the fire could be seen 14 miles away in Providence as the fire quickly spread through the multi-story building and rose to eight alarms. It burned throughout the building and causing the roof on the 217,000 square-foot structure to collapse.

Richardson said fire officials are not speculating on a cause of the fire, and had not been able to get close enough to start their investigation.

"There will be numerous trucks on the scene all day, and we will be putting out spot fire and hot spots and trying to help investigators make their way into the building," Richardson said.

Residents of about 10 houses on two streets surrounding the mill were evacuated, and power was cut to about 800 nearby homes and businesses.

Power grid spokeswoman Deborah Drew said fire officials wanted to ensure that firefighters had safe access to the area around the mill building.

The power was fully restored by 7 a.m. Wednesday and people were being let back into their homes.

At its peak, Alice Mills employed 2,000, and during World War II manufactured barrage balloons and rubber attack boats. The mill was later the home to plastic manufacturer Tech Industries, later known as Portola Tech, which left the building in 2009.

Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine said the building, built in 1889 on a seven-acre site, had recently been acquired by the American Wood Pellet Corp.

Woonsocket is located 14 miles north of Providence and is two miles from the Massachusetts state line.