By Douglas Moser
---- — LAWRENCE — The Merrimac Paper mill fire yesterday afternoon drew a crowd of spectators to Merrimack Street, from neighbors nearby who could see the blaze to fire buffs and amateur photographers to relatives of former mill employees.
A photographer from the Leominster Fire Department shot next to news media and local amateurs as flames devoured the main brick mill building yesterday evening. Residents from around the area took pictures with their cell phones and their own cameras.
Timothy Wheeler, who lives on Canal Street, said he could walk out of his home and see the fire. “They should have just torn it down before this happened,” he said as he stood on Merrimack Street and watched firefighters douse the last of it.
Nairobis Martinez, owner of RC Auto Detailing on Merrimack Street, said a customer told her about smoke coming from the building. “The first thing, all you could see is flames inside from the second floor on the upper left,” she said. “That’s all you could see and that was right around 4:15, 4:30. Then within 10 minutes, the sky went black. The fire completely spread inside and it was fuming. Within half hour or 40 minutes, the flames were breaking out of the windows. We were across the street and we could feel the flames. It was pretty intense.”
At about 5 p.m., the roof began falling in, and Martinez said she could hear the timber cracking and crashing.
Later in the evening, Richard Dumais and his daughter Jessica watched firefighters battle the flames on Merrimack Street. Richard Dumais is a 30-year employee of Polartec, originally Malden Mills Industries. That company’s factory on Broadway was destroyed by a fire in 1995.
Dumais’ father-in-law was a 30-year employee of Merrimac Paper. “It was a good place to work when it was running,” he said.
“My mom wouldn’t even come down because she didn’t want to see it,” Jessica Dumais said.
“She remembers coming down here to pick up her father from work,” said Richard Dumais as smoke poured out of the building and orange light flickered through the gaping windows.
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