LAWRENCE — Firefighters are still at the scene of a fast spreading 5-alarm fire at the Merrimac Paper Co. at Canal Street.
There are reports of an 800-pound oxygen tank in the building, according to Lawrence police. Firefighters are preceding with caution.
The three-story, 200,000 square-foot, red-brick building has been unoccupied for nearly a decade. The building had no electricity.
Acting Fire Chief John Marsh said at about 7 p.m. the he did not know yet whether the cause was suspicious in nature.
"People who talked to our investigators said there were people in the area, but that isn't uncommon," he said.
There were rumors about a person walking on the roof this afternoon before the fire. Marsh could not verify whether there was any substance to that. Firefighters raised a ladder to look early on, but did not see anyone.
No injuries were reported as of 7 p.m., he said. By then, the fire had been tamed. Fire trucks were still spraying from the air, but the flames did not rise past the roof.
The building, which is condemned, is supposed to be locked and boarded. The owner has a watch crew stationed at the building, Marsh said.
Interim Police Chief James Fitzpatrick said the building has an old slate roof, and contains old timbers have been soaked in oil and other chemicals over the years. He said that all firefighters could do was "keep putting water on it."
Mayor Daniel Rivera is at the scene. He says firefighters are doing everything they can to make sure it doesn't spread to other properties in the area.
The Falls and Central bridges are both closed. According to Fitzpatrick, all the streets around the building have been closed.
"Things are pretty much jammed up here," he said.
The Merrimac Paper Company used to produce high-quality paper for National Geographic magazine and others.
Founded in Lawrence in 1866, the mill closed in 2005 after filing for bankruptcy.
The mill was formerly owned by developer Stephen Stapinski, who tried to turn the mill into a mix of residential and retail space. He sold it to former Lawrence Police Officer David Padellaro in 2010 for $1. At the time, the building had a tax lien against it for millions, but Padellaro was allowed to shed the lien when he purchased the building.
In 2012, Padellaro was arrested on three counts of larceny, for allegedly passing bad checks to contractors working to demolish the mill. The mill had several environmental issues that hindered its demolition.
Padellaro was at the scene of the fire tonight, cooperating with firefighters.
There have been several fires at the building over the years, including a 3-alarm fire on Nov. 7, 2009.
To hear an audio file of the scanner reports during the file, CLICK HERE.