What Sparked New Bedford’s Historic Pairpoint Mill Fire
Friday, October 1, 1965 was wet and windy in New Bedford. Extreme Weather Watch says .66 of an inch of rain fell early. It was mild, 68 degrees, but a steady 35-to-40-mile-an-hour wind howled throughout the day. It was not a good day to fight a fire, especially a mill fire.
At 3:45 p.m., the New Bedford Fire Department received an alarm. According to comments made to the Standard-Times by then-Fire Chief Richard T. Gaughan, Ladder 3 and Engines 1, 4 and 6 were the first apparatus to arrive at the scene.
The fire was at the abandoned Pairpoint Mill building at 30-44 Prospect Street at the bottom of Potomska Street, abutting the Acushnet River.
The Pairpoint Mill, a four-story brick building measuring 575 feet by 110 feet, was surrounded by the Gunderson Building to the south and the Containor Building to the north. Like the Pairpoint Mill, the Gunderson Mill was also four stories. The Containor Building may have been two stories.
There were gas storage tanks to the north of the mill complex and houses to the south.
When firefighters arrived at the scene, the first three floors of the Pairpoint Mill were fully engulfed in flames. Though battling strong winds, firefighters were able to contain the inferno to the westerly portion of the Pairpoint Mill.
According to Chief Gaughan, the fire destroyed the Pairpoint Mill. The Gunderson Building and the Containor Building suffered moderate damage.
The paper reported Chief Gaughan said a man was in the Pairpoint building "removing items of salvage value."
"Using a cutting torch, he attempted to remove a section of 2-inch gas pipe that was still connected," Gaughan told the paper. "The gas ignited, and he (the man) was knocked unconscious in the resulting explosion."
The man reportedly regained consciousness and ran a quarter of a mile to report the explosion and fire.
More than 100 firefighters from nine engine and three ladder companies fought the Pairpoint Mill fire. They were on scene for more than 48 hours. I've seen no injury reports.
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