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Eight-alarm blaze guts historic Rhode Island  mill

An eight-alarm fire tore through a 112-year-old mill in Rhode Island on Tuesday, leaving one firefighter injured.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A massive fire that destroyed a 112-year-old mill in northern Rhode Island was contained Wednesday morning, and fire officials said they would allow the structure to burn itself to the ground.

"Most of the building collapsed upon itself," Deputy Chief Michael Richardson told The Associated Press Wednesday morning. "We have it surrounded and are just wetting it down and surrounding the building."

Firefighters from up to 15 departments in Rhode Island and Massachusetts were called to a blaze at the former Alice Mills Rubber Manufacturing Plant in Woonsocket at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Alice Mills, just miles from the Massachusetts state line, was once considered the largest rubber goods factory in the world. The plant made decoy tanks for the D-Day invasion in World War II and later Keds shoes, according to The Providence Journal .

One firefighter was injured in a fall, Richardson said. His name and condition were not immediately released.

Smoke from the fire could be seen 14 miles away in Providence as the fire quickly spread through the multi-story building and rose to eight alarms. It burned throughout the building and causing the roof on the 217,000 square-foot structure to collapse.

Richardson said fire officials are not speculating on a cause of the fire, and had not been able to get close enough to start their investigation.

"There will be numerous trucks on the scene all day, and we will be putting out spot fire and hot spots and trying to help investigators make their way into the building," Richardson said.

Residents of about 10 houses on two streets surrounding the mill were evacuated, and power was cut to about 800 nearby homes and businesses.

Power grid spokeswoman Deborah Drew said fire officials wanted to ensure that firefighters had safe access to the area around the mill building.

The power was fully restored by 7 a.m. Wednesday and people were being let back into their homes.

At its peak, Alice Mills employed 2,000, and during World War II manufactured barrage balloons and rubber attack boats. The mill was later the home to plastic manufacturer Tech Industries, later known as Portola Tech, which left the building in 2009.

The building was then bought by American Wood Pellet Co., whose owner is Steven Triedman of Providence, the Journal reported.

"I feel for (Triedman) and sympathize with him," the newspaper quoted the city's director of economic development Matt Wojcik as saying. "He wanted the location because it was right next to the Providence and Worcester rail line. He felt it would be a good distribution point not only for his business but for other businesses that could open up there. He believed it could be an incubator for new businesses."

Woonsocket is located 14 miles north of Providence and is two miles from the Massachusetts state line.