WOONSOCKET – A fire in the vacant Seville Dye mill off Fairmount Street and First Avenue forced an evacuation of families from neighboring properties Sunday afternoon as firefighters fought to control the blaze.
The evacuation of First Avenue residents was a precautionary step due to the heavy smoke spilling into the neighborhood, Mayor Leo T. Fontaine said at the scene. No one was reported hurt in the incident.
The fire broke out just after 12:45 p.m. in a two-level mill the city had been seeking to have demolished since an adjoining metal shed collapsed under the weight of heavy snow and ice. The abandoned brick portion of the Seville Dye operation at 229 First Ave. was reported to have damaged sections of its roof and was deemed too dangerous to enter in the event of a fire, according to city officials.
Mayor Fontaine, appearing at the fire in his capacity as public safety director, said the fire department had already instituted a plan to fight any fire at the site from outside of the old mill in light of the potential risks to fire personnel.
While the responding city fire companies and units from surrounding communities turning out for mutual assistance contained the fire within the walls of the mill, a column of heavy white, yellow and black smoke drifted south from the structure over the Constitution Hill area and beyond.
Sandra Figueroa of 101 First Ave. said she had been home with her three sons, Carlos, 17, Isaac, 15, and Johnny 11, when she started to smell smoke in the apartment.
“I went outside and looked and there was a big cloud of smoke coming into my house,” she said. “They told us we had to evacuate,” Figueroa said while relating the order given by firefighters to residents living near the mill.
Figueroa and her family found shelter in a heated tent set up by members of the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Red Cross in the middle of a closed section of Second Avenue. The Providence Canteen truck provided the family members and other evacuees with hot drinks and snacks while they waited for word that they could return to their homes.
“I can’t complain,” Figueroa said while noting she had only just arrived at the tent. “Some of the other people have been here for hours.”
Fontaine said that some of the residents asked to leave their homes were put up at the community room in the Fairmont Heights apartment complex and also at Sacred Heart Church.
Fontaine said fire officials would evaluate the safety of the neighborhood after the fire was controlled to determine when the residents would be allowed back to their homes.
Since the city had already been working with Seville Dye’s owner, Nicholas Picciotti, to have the Fairmount and First Avenue property razed, Fontaine said he expected that work would be conducted as part of the clean-up of the fire. “Hopefully it will happen very quickly, we would have liked it to be done two weeks ago,” Fontaine said. Seville Dye also owns mill properties on River Street which were not affected by the fire, Fontaine noted.
The amount of equipment deployed to fight the fire taxed the available water supply in the Fairmount area, Fontaine said, and lines were put into the abutting Blackstone River to augment supplies.
Fire officials did not have a cause for the fire on Sunday but state Fire Marshal’s Office investigators were reported to be working with the local investigators at the scene.
The fire was reported to have been brought under control at 5:56 p.m. but fire crews were expected to be busy with the mop-up at the site through the night.
The city’s aerial Ladder No. 2 truck was deployed at First Avenue during the fire and an aerial truck from Valley Falls deployed at the location early on as well. The city’s aerial Ladder No. 1, which has been idled under city budget cuts, was manned for the fire, but did not go to the scene due to equipment already in place there.
A total of 21 pieces of fire equipment including units from Cumberland Hill in Cumberland and Lincoln were set up at the fire scene. Additional fire units from surrounding communities provided support or covered local stations vacated by city equipment.