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Large explosion damages Maine paper mill; workers escape serious injury

Malfunctioning machinery sent wood fiber and other debris shooting into the sky after a massive explosion at a paper mill in Jay, Maine, Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

All employees at the mill have since been accounted for and no injuries were reported, Joel Davis from the State Fire Marshal’s office said at a press conference.

At 12:06 p.m., Jay police and fire officials received reports of an explosion at a paper factory operated by Pixelle Specialty Paper Solutions at 300 Riley Rd., Davis said.

Images of the scene shared on social media showed a massive plume of smoke rising over the factory after the explosion.

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Pixelle spokeswoman Roxie Lassetter said a rupture in the pressure valve of a digester, which creates pulp from wood chips to be used in the paper, caused the explosion.

Lassetter said none of the 165 employees who were inside the building were near the explosion.

Some employees and people close to the plant were treated at the scene for minor respiratory issues from the debris in the air, but no one was taken to the hospital, she said.

Lassetter said the blast sent water, wood fiber, and chemicals used during the pulping process into the air during the blast. Environmental officials from the state will assess the area for any hazards, she said.

A small fire broke out on the building’s roof from the explosion but was quickly extinguished, Davis said.

Pixelle has yet to determine the extent of the damage. Fire officials and representatives from the company will start to assess the site Thursday morning, though Lassetter said the area of the blast has sustained “significant damage."

A propane gas explosion killed a longtime firefighter and injured seven people in Farmington, Maine last September.

“After Farmington seven months ago, we were fearing the worst today," Davis said. "But by the grace of God, it turned out much different today.”

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Caroline Enos can be reached at caroline.enos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CarolineEnos.