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Blaze Forces Evacuation of Homes, Businesses, School

April 17, 1987

SOUTHBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ Fire raced through a 19th century mill complex Thursday, injuring six people and forcing evacuation of 100 workers from the buildings and other people from nearby homes, businesses and a school, authorities said.

The general-alarm fire at the Hamilton Mill was reported at about 11 a.m. and brought under control two hours later, said Fire Chief Leonard LaPorte.

″The fire spread like wildfire,″ said Bernadette Arsenault, an employee at Colonial Wood Products, one of several companies with offices in the mill. ″We were all lucky to get out,″ she said.

The owner of Colonial Wood Products, William Muir, 57, was listed in fair condition at Harrington Memorial Hospital, where he was being treated for smoke inhalation, said Helen Peloquin, nursing supervisor.

Five other people were released after treatment for minor injuries or smoke inhalation, Mrs. Peloquin said.

None of the injuries involved the children evacuated from an elementary school roughly 300 yards from the burning mill, she said.

Firefighters blocked parts of the downtown area to traffic and evacuated the homes, businesses and the West Main Street School as a precaution, LaPorte said.

A damage estimate was not immediately available. Firefighters remained at the scene Thursday night wetting down the structure, said fire department spokesman Ronald Lemire. He said he did not know how many homes and businesses were evacuated.

The Hamilton mill is at least the fifth mill in New England to be hit with a major fire in recent months.

A building at the Kerr Mill complex in Fall River was destroyed by fire in January, and fires in the last month have heavily damaged mills in Lowell, Attleboro, and Woonsocket, R.I.

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