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Georgia-Pacific Paper Mill in Palatka, Fla.

Palatka, Florida, USA 21 July 2016 -- (From The Florida Times-Union) -- One employee and two firefighters were injured during the battle to extinguish an intensely smoky fire at Palatka's Georgia-Pacific plant Wednesday evening, But most of that sprawling two million-square-foot plant on County Road 216 was back in operation Thursday after firefighters from Putnam and Clay County as well as Palatka fought there for hours.

The fire was first reported minutes before 5 p.m. as about 350 of the plant's total 850-person workforce was on duty, Georgia-Pacific spokesman Terry Hadaway said. The initial report was heavy smoke in the converting operations area, where big industrial beating machines recycles paper into the basis for the bathroom tissue and paper towels that the plant manufactures.

"We take the fires very, very seriously because the potential is there and we respond quickly and make sure our people are trained. You cannot take chances," Hadaway said. " ... It was the equipment associated with that beater. That was where the heat source was. It created the smoke and took a good many resources to find the source, which is why we had that many departments responding."

Nine area volunteer fire departments joined the Putnam and Clay county firefighting efforts, facing heavy smoke and low visibility for almost five hours before the first units were sent home, Putnam County fire department Capt. Paul Flateau said. The two firefighters taken to the hospital suffered from overheating and were treated and released. No investigation is planned by the Putnam County fire marshal, Flateau said. The injured employee received some stitches and was also treated and released, Hadaway said.

The plant just northwest of downtown Palatka is one of three company facilities in Florida. Opened in 1947 as Hudson Pulp and Paper, Georgia-Pacific bought it in 1979.

Hadaway said two of its paper machines and other equipment was shut down during firefighting operations, but the plant was returning to operation on Thursday.


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