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Verso Wisconsin Rapids Mill Fire May Have Been Sparked by Lightning

WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wisconsin (From news reports) -- Verso Corporation has released a statement saying they believe Tuesday's fire at their idled Wisconsin Rapids mill may have started with a lightning strike.

In a statement, the corporation says it appears the mill was struck by lightning, which caused a fire at the scrubber stack.

Wisconsin Rapids firefighters say they traced the flames to a fiberglass stack that was part of an idled hardwood digester. From there the flames grew until they engulfed a smokestack, causing it to collapse.

Crews say the flames were contained to the stack area and #1 digester building.

No Verso employees were injured. One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion.

Verso's statement went on to thank the fire crews who responded to the scene.

Crews were called to the scene when a passerby noticed smoke coming from the stack at around 8:30. The flames were out by 10 PM and crews remained on the scene until after midnight.

The Verso mill, which has been idled since last summer, still has a few dozen employees on the grounds each day to perform maintenance and fill some ongoing orders.

The group interested in buying the shuttered Verso paper mill says it still wants to buy, even as it's visibly missing a smokestack Wednesday following a fire.

Don Peterson is the administrator for Timber Professionals Association, a cooperative in talks with Verso to buy the mill.

"We don't know what the extent of the fire is and the damage is yet, but as far as we're concerned, our main goal is to get that mill up and running. This does not diminish our interest whatsoever," Peterson said.

Dozens of firefighters from eight departments were at the scene as Tuesday turned to early Wednesday. The fire happened in a part of the mill that is closed since the mill shuttered last summ

Peterson says despite the damage, this mill is too vital to the state and local economy for the cooperative to abandon their plans to buy.

"Not having that market out there has just had a tremendous impact on not only the loggers and truckers but also on the landowners," he said.

Peterson says they were hoping to buy the mill and make it operational in 2021, so this setback may push their timeline back.

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