NEW BETHLEHEM – A quick response by local fire crews, and a little luck, kept one of Clarion County’s landmark sites from going up in smoke yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon.
At around 3 p.m., firefighters were called to the Red Bank Mills complex along Liberty Street for a report of a fire in the basement of the oldest part of the mill, dating back into the 1800s.
When crews arrived, smoke could be seen coming from a basement window of the green, four-plus story large wooden building.
Firefighters from New Bethlehem, Distant, Hawthorn, Limestone and Rimersburg arrived at the scene during one of the most difficult times of the week to get crews because so many firefighters work outside of town.
New Bethlehem Fire Chief Barry Fox said that it appears that an auger in the basement of the mill, which transports the grain into the upper levels of the building, jammed, causing the friction to start the grain smoldering and smoking.
“It was in a bad spot in the basement,” Fox said of the difficulty in getting firefighters, hoses and water into the building. But, he noted, the location probably helped save the structure.
An employee of the business said that luck also played a factor as the fuses for the machine burned out, shutting off the machine before it could spark the dust and possibly cause an explosive situation.
“That could be explosive,” Fox said of the old building, which is one that firefighters keep a close eye on.
“This is one of our fears,” Fox said of a fire at the mill. “It’s the oldest part of the mill.”
“Fortunately it was contained in the basement.”
It appeared that there was no structural damage to the building, and that the machinery was also not damaged badly.
Crews were starting to leave the site around 4 p.m., thankful that a major disaster had been averted.
New Bethlehem Fire crews were back in service at 5 p.m.