PAWTUCKET, R.I. (AP) – Investigators said Sunday they had pinpointed the origin of a devastating fire that erupted at a vacant mill and spread to nearby residences, but they had not eliminated any cause, including the possibility of arson.

Officials would not disclose where Friday’s fire began at the Greenhalgh Mill complex. They expected to complete gathering evidence by Sunday night.

Unspecified materials from the complex have been given to the state fire marshal’s office for analysis, police Lt. John Clarkson said Sunday. A state police dog also was on site, to ensure no one had died at the complex, where squatters and others were known to visit or stay.

City officials estimated damage for the first time, giving a preliminary figure of $3 million. Of that, the mill was valued at $1.8 million, while at least 16 residential properties and one commercial property either damaged or destroyed were valued at $1.2 million. Some of the affected residential properties were multifamily units.

Mayor James Doyle said up to 28 households were left homeless, though officials were still compiling a final list. Electricity had been restored citywide, though some households were without telephone service, he said.

“Today, we begin rebuilding the neighborhoods,” Doyle said.

Seventeen firefighters suffered injuries, such as smoke inhalation. Two remained hospitalized Sunday.

, one in serious condition with chest pains and the other hurt in the eye by a flying ember, Doyle said. All residents had been treated and released, he added.

Ron Travers, a city zoning official, said investigators believe all asbestos had been removed from the building before the fire. He said he had not spoken with the company contracted to demolish the property to see if other chemicals may have been at the site.

The mill produced a silky fabric called acetate that’s used in linings for coats and dresses before it closed in 1998. A developer had planned to demolish it to make way for a grocery store chain.

Also Sunday, tearful residents left homeless tried to imagine their futures as an emergency shelter at a local junior high school closed.

The Red Cross gave 3-day vouchers for a local motel, along with toiletries and other essentials. At least 25 people were expected to use the vouchers, Red Cross spokeswoman Robin Erickson said. Before the shelter closed, residents from around the state stopped by to donate clothes and other belongings.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the state fire marshal’s office, state police and local police and fire were involved in the investigation. On Saturday, they brought in heavy equipment to sift through the rubble and used a helicopter to map the area.

The fire began at the mill Friday afternoon. It soon blew out of control as winds up to 45 miles per hour blew flames and embers that ignited homes in surrounding neighborhoods. Firefighters battled flare-ups as late as Saturday night.

The mayor praised authorities for keeping the fire from spinning further out of control in the densely packed, urban area of homes and businesses.

“There are no words of gratitude,” an emotional Doyle said. “‘Thank you’ isn’t strong enough.”‘

AP-ES-11-16-03 1613EST



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