10 years ago on February 5, 2003 - Port-O-Lite Fire on Railroad St in Swanzey 19 years ago on February 5, 1994 - Mohawk Plastics Fire in Bernardston, Ma. Many many fire departments went mutual aid from our system to battle this large commercial building fire.
An early morning fire which continued into last night destroyed Mohawk Plastics Inc., leaving about 70 people jobless and one firefighter treated for smoke inhalation.
"This is devastating and it's just so hard to believe," said Monroe Phillips, a foreman from Bernardston. "I've been working here 16 years and I want to spend the rest of my life working here. It's just unbelievable right now."
Bernardston Fire Chief Lloyd Grover said the Industrial Drive fire was one of the worst he's encountered.
"In my 16 years of fighting fires, this is the biggest one I've ever seen," Grover said of the fire that sent flames more than 75 feet into the air.
Grover said the fire started yesterday at about 1:30 a.m. and that more than 100 firefighters from 15 fire departments, and 29 fire trucks, fought the fire. He said the blaze was expected to smolder well into today.
Workers were in shock.
"In every negative situation you can find some positive things and build from there. That's what we'll have to do. What else can we do," Phillips asked rhetorically as he stared at the building's crumbled walls and heaps of twisted metal pipes that he said once were machines.
"We've got owners and management that really care about the people that work here and I'm sure we'll build again and it will be even better than before," he added.
The fire was reported at about 1:30 a.m. yesterday by foreman Jack Chase, 23, of Greenfield, who was working the night shift with 11 other employees.
Chase said he smelled smoke and searched for the fire.
"We found the fire between two walls and I tried to get it out with an extinguisher. I couldn't get it out. At that point, I got everyone out and did a head count to make sure everyone was safe, then I went back to call the Fire Department and it just got so smoky so fast, it was unbelievable."
"I almost didn't make it back out because of all the smoke," he said. "I had to put my shirt over my mouth because of all the smoke."
Thought it was over
He said he went home at about 4:15 a.m. because he thought the blaze was contained.
"I come back and there's nothing left; it's so unbelievable," he said. "Times are tough enough, you don't need the 50 or 60 percent cut in pay you get from unemployment. I don't even know how unemployment works, but it looks like I'm going to."
He said workers were unsure about their future.
"I don't know what I'm going to do now; I don't know what anyone is going to do. I'm just thankful that everyone is OK," he said.
Mohawk Plastic President Terry Anderson said the factory is fully insured but he doesn't know what will happen next.
"We don't have any plans yet; we're still watching the flames," he said.
Mohawk Plastics makes polyethylene bags and liners and is owned by Dimeling, Schreiber and Park, a Philadelphia investment partnership which bought the company in 1992.
The company was founded in 1961 by the late Andrew R. St. Hillare. St. Hillare began the company with $2,500 and a plastic bag machine that he bought in New York City in 1961. He operated it out of his garage for about 18 months, before moving to several rented spaces.
In 1967, the Bernardston plant was built and later expanded.
Grover said it was a difficult blaze.
"The water just doesn't have an impact on this kind of fire; there's really not much more we could do," Grover said.
Grover also had praise for the volunteers who supplied the many firefighters with coffee, sandwiches, doughnuts and hot chocolate.
Bernardston firefighter Lionel Gagnon was treated for smoke inhalation at Franklin Medical Center, Greenfield and later released.
State Fire Marshal Michael Mazza said the cause of the fire won't be determined until it is out.
Grover said the firefighting efforts could continue into this morning.
Lisa Jones, an environmental engineer with the state Department of Environmental Protection in Springfield, said the dark smoke from the fire doesn't pose any health threat.