No cause has yet been determined for a ferocious fire in Derby that destroyed a mulch distribution operation and a trucking company\'s central headquarters Friday night and Saturday.

Derby Fire Chief Craig Ellam said it was undetermined what started the fire that destroyed New England Mulch and Barrup Transportation\'s 28,000-square-foot metal building which housed the mulch processing and bagging operations, both companies\' offices, and a truck storage garage. Rodney Barrup and his family own both Quarry Road businesses.

Despite numerous hazards associated with the blaze, no injuries were reported.

Flames from the fire could be seen from as far away as North Troy and Derby Line.

Ellam confirmed Sunday that the fire is believed to be accidental. \"It is not suspicious,\" he said.

The fire also left a large majority of the two companies\' 40-member workforce without jobs, although Rodney Barrup\'s son Kevin said some of the workers had been placed in other jobs. Kevin Barrup estimated the fire loss could be between $2 million and $4 million.

Rodney Barrup had just left for Florida that morning.

More than 75 firefighters from Derby Line; Newport; Stanstead, Quebec; Orleans; Newport Center; and West Charleston faced numerous hazards, including continual explosions of propane gas.

More than $300,000 worth of plastic bagging caused toxic smoke. Firefighters also dealt with such dangers as oil and gasoline, and what Ellam said were other unknowns - falling metal, a slippery area surrounding the building, and the fierce heat and flames that kept them from fighting the fire inside.

Although tankers attempted to ferry water, it was insufficient to battle the intense blaze.

Firefighters fought the blaze for seven hours, using a \"surround and drown\" procedure in an attempt to bring the fire under control. But they couldn\'t keep up with the blaze.

\"It sort of overwhelmed us,\" Ellam said. \"Luckily, it is a steel structure and kept the heat inside.\" No other buildings were threatened, and there was no wind.

Firefighters eventually left temporarily to gas up the fire trucks, get some rest, and returned around 8 a.m. Saturday.

\"It was too dangerous to continue in the dark,\" Ellam said.

Besides problems in getting adequate water to fight the fire, Ellam said another difficulty encountered by firefighters was slippery roads around the building that prevented drivers from steering the trucks. At the same time, surrounded by explosions, toxic smoke, and falling live high-tension electric lines, \"we didn\'t know where we were going to go,\" he said.

Derby firefighters continued efforts for another four hours on Saturday. Some of the mulch in the building was still smoldering as of late Saturday afternoon.

Despite all the hazards, none of the firefighters were injured, nor were any employees. Kevin Barrup said everyone had left the building around 5 p.m., and no one was in the building at the time the fire started, which was discovered by a neighbor.

Barrup said all of the buildings\' processing and bagging equipment, as well as all of the companies\' paper records, were destroyed in the blaze. Seven tractors for trailer units and a dump truck, along with five forklifts and a couple of loaders, were among the vehicles destroyed. Saved were a couple of trucks and a few loaders.

\"Everything else was destroyed,\" Barrup said.

The company started its mulch operations in 1975. It is not known whether there are any plans to rebuild the facility.

Ellam said although this is the first time his department has been called to the main building, it has repeatedly been called to fight fires ignited by internal combustion in the mountains of raw mulch surrounding the area, the last time in November. He did not believe, however, that internal combustion had anything to do with Friday\'s fire.


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