More than 96 hours after an explosion rocked the Verso Paper Mill in Sartell, Minn., fire fighters are slowing switching from fighting the fire to the enormous task of cleaning up the aftermath.
The company has hired a contractor to start taking down damaged structural steel, which needs to be removed before crews can begin off loading the paper rolls weight 2,000 to 8,000 pounds – some waterlogged, others still smoldering.
We're still in that 98 to 99 percent," said Sartell fire chief Ken Heim. "We are not 100 percent totally out, and we may not be for weeks."
Complicating the demolition efforts are two Burlington Santa Fe railroad track that run through Sartell, but the railroad continues to delay and reroute trains, giving crews just a six hour window to bring in heavy equipment
"It has been the ultimate challenge as a fire chief, and I couldn't do it without the help of my neighboring departments and statewide people that have helped," Heim said.
Thirty-nine different departments – some as far as 100 miles away – have helped in the fire fight, using over 4 million gallons of water to extinguish the flames.
"We call it mutual aid, but it's neighbor helping neighbor," said Sartell Mayor Joe Perske.
Fifty-year-old Jon Maus was killed in the fire, but no one has been injured while battling the blaze.
As for the cause of the explosion, that's in the hand of the state fire marshal, which has two investigators on site.