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No injuries following massive explosion at mill in Jay, Maine

Pixelle Specialty Solutions says there was an apparent rupture in a pressure vessel in the pulp mill that released a mixture of wood fiber, water and pulping liquor.

JAY, Maine — There has been an explosion at the Androscoggin Mill in Jay. 

Franklin County Sheriff's Dept. says crews are responding and entrances to the mill on Crash Road and Riley Road are closed.

Maine Department of Public Safety spokesperson Steve McCausland said plant managers told the Fire Marshals Office that all employees and contractors have been accounted for with no injuries. Seven fire departments responded and dealt with a small fire inside the plant. 

Pixelle Specialty Solutions released a statement Wednesday saying at approximately 11:55 a.m. there was an apparent rupture in a pressure vessel in the pulp mill that released a mixture of wood fiber, water and pulping liquor.

"We are in the preliminary stages of assessing the situation. First and foremost is our concern for the safety of our employees, contractors, and visitors on our mill site."

RELATED: 'Thank our lucky stars and the man upstairs' Maine mother of mill worker breathing a sigh of relief after explosion

Richard Carrier Trucking & All Safe Drivers captured the moment the mill exploded. Warning: there is swearing in the video.

The press release confirmed everyone on-site is accounted for and there are no injuries. 

Fire officials held a press briefing at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Joel Davis, of the State of Maine Fire Marshal's Office, said Wednesday at 12:06 p.m. the Jay Fire and Police Depts. received reports of an explosion at the mill. 

Upon arrival, they found there had been an explosion in the digester part of the mill, leading to concerns of chemicals being involved. The digester is part of the pulping process, where wood chips are cooked to reduce them into fiber for the paper making process.

There was a small fire on the roof of the mill, and significant damage to the digester area of the mill.

Davis said there were a couple instances of respiratory problems due to the dust and debris, but people were treated and released. Davis explained that fortunately no one works in the digester area directly, so there were no injuries. 

"After Farmington seven months ago, we were fearing the worst today," Davis said. "But by the grace of God, it turned out much different."

The Fire Marshal's Office will begin its investigation Thursday morning.

Roxie Lassetter, human resources manager for Pixelle, also spoke at the briefing and said no injuries from the explosion is "nothing short of a miracle."

Lassetter said there 500 employees that work at the mill, and at the time of the explosion estimates there were around 165 to 175 employees working. "No one was in the immediate vicinity, which was certainly helpful."

The complete press release from Pixelle:

Today at approximately 11:55 A.M., ET, April 15, 2020, there was an apparent rupture in a pressure vessel in the Pulp Mill at the Pixelle Mill in Jay, ME.

We are in the preliminary stages of assessing the situation.  First and foremost is our concern for the safety of our employees, contractors, and visitors on our mill site.

Everyone on site is accounted for and there are no injuries.

We promptly implemented our on-site emergency protocols. In addition, local first responders are on site. We appreciate their support.

The incident released a mixture of wood fiber, water and pulping liquor. At this point, we are evaluating potential environmental impact.

In addition, we are taking appropriate steps to stabilize the process to restore order to the mill site asap.

Again, it is very early in the process. We will provide more details as they become available.

The mill, once owned by Ohio-based Verso Corp., was sold to Pixelle Specialty Solutions LLC, a paper manufacturer based in Pennsylvania, in February for $400 million. The price included the sale of another mill in Wisconsin. 

Susan Faloon, spokesperson for Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) said no MEMA personnel are on the scene as of yet.

Editor's note: we have removed the audio from the video below due to language used.

A manager at a Hannaford about two miles from the mill said he felt the explosion and saw the big cloud of smoke.

Maine state Sen. Russell Black, who is from the Jay area, told NEWS CENTER Maine early reports say the explosion was in or near a "digester" at the mill.

Digesters are where chemicals get mixed with wood to break down the fibers into pulp. Some very strong chemicals are used in that process.

RELATED: Maine leaders react to Jay mill explosion

Governor Janet Mills issued the following statement on the explosion at the Androscoggin Mill in Jay:

I am closely monitoring all information concerning the explosion at the Androscoggin Mill in Jay. Officials with the Department of Public Safety are on scene, along with first responders, and more are on the way. I will be in close contact with public safety officials regarding further developments and to direct all necessary State resources.

I urge Maine people to stay far away from the scene, to stay safe and to allow first responders to work as quickly as they can. I ask the people of Maine to join me in praying for the safety and wellbeing of all those in and around this historic mill. In this already difficult moment, let us summon the strength and resilience which has defined us as Maine people throughout our history and which has sustained us and carried us through our most challenging times.

In a Tweet, U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), said he's monitoring the situation along with the Gov. Mills. "My thoughts and prayers are with the mill's employees, the Jay community, and our first responders."

McCausland said the Fire Marshal's Office will begin its investigation in earnest tomorrow. 

This is a developing story and will be updated. NEWS CENTER Maine is on the scene. 

A previous version of this story identified the mill as Verso Paper mill, but has been updated to reflect the correction.