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Sparks likely ignited wood dust at factory, leading to fire, officials say

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Fire officials say the Aug. 20 four-alarm fire at the Inferno Wood Pellet Inc. factory in Rumford, R.I., was likely caused by sparks created during the production process, though the investigation is continuing.

"Right now we have a tentative cause," Inspector Paul Manning of the Rhode Island State Fire Marshals Office told "It was accidental, relating to the process going on at the facility at the time. The investigation is still ongoing. We're still analyzing the data. There is still information coming in. We want to accumulate as much information as we can so we can more accurately determine what happened."

East Providence Fire Department Chief Oscar Elmasian told the source officials suspect sparks were created near a grinder, igniting dust and other combustibles inside the 300,000-plus square-foot building.

The fire caused significant damage to the factory, according to the source, and led to a large part of the roof caving in. Along with local and state fire officials, representatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have aided in the investigation.

Elmasian told the Providence Journal the wood pellet factory has experienced small fires in the past, though the facility's fire suppression systems have effectively confined the flames to the machinery where the fire was taking place.

However, Patrick Griffin, head of the OSHA Rhode Island field office, said the Inferno factory fire reminded him of a similar incident at a wood pellet factory in New Hampshire. At that location, it was determined the company had not properly protected their employees from wood-dust explosions and other fire hazards, the Journal reported. The company was fined $135,000. 

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