Repairs preceded Sartell paper mill blazeby Conrad Wilson, Minnesota Public Radio
SARTELL, Minn. — Police reports released this week shed some light on the Memorial Day explosion and fire at a paper mill in central Minnesota.
Documents from the Sartell Police Department describe how the Verso Paper Mill was coming back online after a shutdown to repair a leaking pipe.
According to one worker's statement to police, the plant was shut down around 10:40 a.m. for 11 and a half minutes to change a leaky pipe on the #3 paper-making machine.
In the process, a compressor caught fire. Mill worker John Maus was trying to put it out with a fire extinguisher when an explosion occurred, killing Maus.
David Popp was working in the mill the day of the explosion. He told Sartell police in a statement he saw the fire in a room with roughly eight compressors. It was near the bottom of one them.
"I seen like a red flame, it was a kind of a red flame; it wasn't a campfire flame, it was a more red," he said to police.
Popp said he saw Maus holding the fire extinguisher.
"I don't know if he tried to spray it," Popp told police, "but I seen the fire increase a little bit higher, maybe a foot higher, you know, just and it was like I seen John's body reactions, it was like 'wait, I better wait,' you know it was like 'I don't think I'm doing this right.' "
According to Popp's statement, Maus turned and started walking away from the fire "and that's when that blew."
The documents are the first official look at what happened in the minutes leading up to and after the incident that killed Maus and injured four others.
The state Fire Marshall's Office is also conducting an investigation as is the state's Occupational Safety and Health Investigators.