Since 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, dozens of units and hundreds of firefighters have been working to contain a massive fire that erupted at the Willimantic Waste Paper Company on West Main Street on Sunday.
Fire officials worked throughout the night and into Monday to fully extinguish the fire and any hot spots, said fire officials.
Plumes of smoke could be seen for miles, and are still lingering in the area, according to Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Director of Emergency Response, Jeff Chandler.
Windham Town Manager James Rivers, the Windham Fire Chief Marc Scrivener, and Chandler are urging residents to remain indoors with windows and doors closed, particularly those with COPD or asthma.
Residents are urged to avoid breathing in smoke, and avoid the area downwind of the plumes.
Rivers said the Windham Public Schools will be closed on Monday, in the event of evacuations, particularly for elderly residents. Rivers said that while they have not reached that point, they are taking precautions.
A representative from Eastern Connecticut State University said ECSU is closed on Monday in order to ventilate classrooms. Although, DEEP officials said there is no detection of toxicity in the air, the closure is out of an abundance of caution.
The smoke is reaching students at Eastern Connecticut State University, as well as patients and hospital staff at Windham Hospital. Town Manager Jim Rivers said officials are working with both establishments to ensure safety.
Air and water samples are being collected to determine toxicity in the area, but Chandler said there is no cause for alarm and any potentially harmful elements are contained to the fire-site.
Residents are urged to limit water usage, such as running a dishwater or washing machines, as the water system in the area is being taxed from the efforts, said Chandler.
As for fighting the fire, crews are using 3 tower trucks to fight the fire from above to extinguish the rubble and debris from the 100,000 square foot facility which contains used construction materials, including wood, plastic, and waste.
A long reach excavator was brought in to tear down the walls to reach materials that are still burning inside, said officials.
HAPPENING NOW: An excavator brought in to help break apart the building to fight fire. It’s the black one I circled. I’m told that’s only the midpoint of the 100,000 square foot building @WFSBnews pic.twitter.com/fS1P8kae1S— Jennifer Lee (@JenLeeTV) January 29, 2018
Firefighters are wearing breathing apparatus, and are being hosed down after being inside to prevent contamination, said Fire Chief Marc Scrivener.
Scrivener said one firefighter was taken to Windham Hospital for observation, and was released shortly thereafter.
State Representative Susan Johnson called this fire a devastating loss to the community.
"The DeVivo Family has been a wonderful family business. This has been a multiple generation business. They employ a little more than 250 people here so they have been an integral part of community life here and also have done a great job with recycling the right things with the environment."
The Windham Fire Marshal is on scene and is investigating to determine the cause and origin of the fire.
Channel 3 is on the scene and will keep you updated as more information becomes available.
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