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Heat From Welding Torch Sparked Massive Woonsocket Mill Fire

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Smoke from the fire could be seen 14 miles away in Providence.

Smoke from the fire could be seen 14 miles away in Providence.

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (CBS/AP) — Fire investigators have identified the cause of a massive blaze that destroyed a 122-year-old mill in northern Rhode Island Wednesday morning.

Residual heat from a blow torch used by a contractor is believed to have sparked the fire Tuesday evening.  The building owner told investigators that the contractor was using that blow torch for some plumbing work inside the building.

More than 125 firefighters from as many as 15 different departments in Rhode Island and Massachusetts assisted in knocking down the blaze at the former Alice Mills Rubber Manufacturing Plant in Woonsocket.

“Most of the building collapsed upon itself,” Deputy Chief Michael Richardson said Wednesday morning.

“We have it surrounded and are just wetting it down and surrounding the building.”

Alice Mills, just miles from the Massachusetts state line, was once considered the largest rubber goods factory in the world.

One firefighter was injured in a fall, Richardson said. His name and condition were not immediately released.

WBZ-TV’s Sera Congi reports

Smoke from the fire could be seen 14 miles away in Providence as the fire quickly spread through the multistory building. It burned throughout the walls, causing the roof on the 217,000 square-foot structure to collapse.

On Tuesday night, residents of about 10 houses on two streets next to the mill were evacuated, and power was cut to about 800 nearby homes and businesses.

Power grid spokeswoman Deborah Drew said fire officials wanted to ensure that firefighters had safe access to the area around the mill building.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Karen Twomey reports

The power was fully restored by 7 a.m. Wednesday and the group of evacuated people were being let back into their homes.

At its peak, Alice Mills employed 2,000, and during World War II manufactured barrage balloons and rubber attack boats. The mill was later the home to plastic manufacturer Tech Industries, later known as Portola Tech, which left the building in 2009.

Woonsocket is located 14 miles north of Providence and is two miles from the Massachusetts state line.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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