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Paper Mill Blaze Prompts Evacuation

May 7, 1988

ROARING SPRING, Pa. (AP) _ An explosion at a pulp and paper mill Friday spewed chemical fumes that prompted the evacuation of all 2,600 residents of this town, authorities said. Forty people were treated for respiratory problems.

The blaze erupted about 10 p.m. in the boiler room of the Appleton Papers Inc. plant in this central Pennsylvania community, said Bob Kerns, fire coordinator for the Blair County Emergency Management Service. The fire was brought under control by midnight.

″My windows shook like a stick of dynamite went off when the thing blew up,″ said Mary Ann Bathurst, who lives near the plant.

No serious injuries were reported. But about 40 people, including one mill worker, were treated for respiratory problems at Nason Hospital in Roaring Spring, which was not evacuated because of its safe distance from the plant, Kerns said.

Residents were asked to leave their homes as a precautionary measure because of a chemical odor. Some people were complaining of a burning sensation in their lungs, watery eyes and shortness of breath, according to Terry Dellinger, assistant police chief in Roaring Spring.

Dellinger said authorities were not certain whether the chemical was released in the flames or leaked out afterward. The cause of the fire and the extent of damages at the plant were not immediately known.

″Hopefully, a breeze will come by and blow it all away,″ Dellinger said.

Kerns identified the chemical as diphenyl oxide, a toxic and highly flammable substance used to heat the boilers at the plant.

Evacuated residents were taken to Central High School in nearby Martinsburg. Some went to the homes of family or friends.

″It’s very hectic down here right now,″ Principal Sam Ebersole said from the high school.

Cots were set up in the high school’s cafeteria, gymnasium and auditorium, according to Ebersole.

″The word here is that we’ll be here all night,″ he said.

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