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OXFORD — A fire at manufactured-home builder Keiser Industries late Friday afternoon likely will shutter the plant, at least for the weekend, officials said.

Firefighters from more than a dozen departments battled the large, smoky fire on Mechanic Falls Road reported just before 5 p.m.

The fire appeared to have started outside, at the northwest corner of the central manufacturing area. The metal building, which measures 200 by 400 feet and is used to manufacture modular housing, was initially reported as fully engulfed in fire, according to radio traffic, and the sprinkler system had engaged.

The facility had closed for the day just an hour before and most of the staff had gone home, according to Rusty St. Pierre, production manager. The facility employs about 77 people and the shift ended at 4 p.m.

“Right now, we are thinking it started in the back, where we have a lean-to for storage,” St. Pierre said.

He said the fire was centered on stacks of plywood and OSB, a type of particle board used in manufactured homes.

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Witnesses said it seemed to spread into the building, and into several of the manufacturing bays. Witnesses said as many as 12 homes were being assembled in the factory Friday. Smoke billowed out of doors at the southwest corner as well.

The factory was scheduled to open with a skeleton staff Saturday morning to get ahead on orders. That won’t happen now, said head receiver Allan Henley.

“We’ll have to see what happens next week,” he said.

Nobody was in the building when the fire started, but one worker had left his blue truck in the parking lot.

Witness Audra Milos, 22, of Greenwood said she was driving along Route 121 on her way home from Lewiston when she saw the flames over the building. She called 911 and ran into the building.

“I saw that truck, so I didn’t know if somebody was still inside, but I was not about to hang outside if someone was going to be burning do death,” she said. “So I ran inside and started checking.”

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Rescue personnel pulled Milos from the building minutes later. She was checked by medical personnel, interviewed by fire investigators and sent home.

“I saw the firefighters at first, and I thought it was just a worker,” she said. “I yelled, ‘Get out!’ and they said, ‘Oh, you’re not supposed to be in here.’ And they took me out.”

Neighbors described impressive flames as the fire broke out.

“They were huge flames — 25, 30 feet high off the top of the roof,” said Bob Walo of 37 Mechanic Falls Road, across the road from the factory. “I worry about the smoke more, though. They have a lot of wood, a lot of chemicals.”

Neighbor Bill Emery said he heard a loud bang about 45 minutes before he saw smoke. The bang, near where the company’s propane tanks are stored out back, was loud enough to feel a shake in the ground, he said.

“It wasn’t earth-shaking, but you felt it,” said Emery, who was in his house at 40 Mechanic Falls Road with his daughter when the fire started. Emery said he saw flames coming out of the back of the warehouse almost twice the height of the roof.

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Neighbor Scott Colby said four 30-foot-long propane tanks are at the back of the metal-framed building.

Fire departments from Paris, Oxford, Norway, Mechanic Falls, West Paris, Otisfield, Minot, Harrison, Poland, Raymond, Sumner and Auburn were at the scene, as were rescue vehicles from several towns. About an hour later, tankers from Naples, Raymond and Gray were also called to help.

Traffic was stopped on Route 121 and motorists were detoured to Route 26 and were occasionally stopped to make way for rescue vehicles.

An employee of The Big Apple convenience store at Routes 121 and 26 reported seeing “black, black, thick, thick smoke” billowing from the direction of the factory but said the smoke seemed to have slowed by 5:25 p.m.

At 5:45 p.m., Waterford firefighters were pulled from the Oxford scene to respond to another fire that had rekindled on McWain Hill Road. A home there burned earlier in the day and appeared to have rekindled, with heavy smoke reported at the home.

Keiser Homes is owned by Innovative Building Systems, acquired by the Pennsylvania company in late 2013. At the time of purchase, the Oxford company employed about 100 people.

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According to municipal tax records, the building is assessed at just over $3 million.

The company, in business since 2005, builds between 200 and 300 modular homes every year, specializing in ranch, Colonial and Cape Cod style homes. All of the construction is done in the warehouse on site, including plumbing and electrical work.

The company builds for customers in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont.

On its Facebook page, Keiser Homes describes itself as “a national leader in modular construction, setting new standards in quality and value for home building and for multifamily and commercial development.”


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