Demolition and cleanup may begin this week at the site of the Sept. 12 Gramco feed mill fire, the source of a steady blanket of smoke that continues to engulf portions of the Village of Franklinville and is beginning to be labeled a nuisance by residents.
Firefighters have returned almost nightly as flames flare up anew from the smoldering stores of hot grain lying inside the base of the ruined structure.
Fire Chief Ron Clark said Sunday the mill's owner told him equipment may arrive Tuesday to begin demolition work, signaling relief for weary firefighters and for mill neighbors who have begun complaining of headaches and respiratory problems.
"There's been a holdup, the owner said, (by) the insurance company," who must approve demolition bids before work can begin, Clark said.
Both water and foam flame retardant have been used over the past week to snuff rekindled flames in grains mixed with greasy feed additives, he said.
"The heat ruptured and opened up (tanks of fat in the basement) and the grease . . . floats on top of water and the more water and foam we put on it, the more it burns . . . then with the grain in there it gets down underneath and smolders and filters up through," Clark said, describing lingering complications at the mill that last Wednesday brought firefighters out three times between 7:30 p.m. and 2 a.m.
"By then I was getting pretty disgusted at the insurance company," Clark said.
Residents of the neighborhood around the mill complained Sunday that they were forced to leave the village or endure the smoke to enjoy the sunny, mild weather.
"You don't want to spend much time outside," said a pedestrian who refused to give her name.
Her second-story Empire Street apartment looks out on the mill. She complained that her sinus infection has worsened and won't respond to treatment, and the headaches she's been having are worse.
Joe Wojnarowski, a retired mill manager who can also see the structure from his Empire Street home, said he is surprised authorities haven't come to investigate the health risk due to poor air quality in all corners of the village.
"Everybody complains about a sore chest and headaches," Wojnarowski said, asking why a cleanup hasn't begun.
Sgt. Joseph Grube of the Cattaraugus County sheriff's fire investigation team said last week he has helped negotiate the dismantling efforts with Gramco's insurer, Selective Insurance of Buffalo, but the process has been slow.
He said authorities agree safety is more important than finding out what sparked the fire, which is not believed to be arson. Concern is high over the continued burning in the mill and the possibility that a block wall or other parts of the structure still standing could collapse on other buildings, cars or onlookers.
Due to unsafe conditions, all investigation by the sheriff's team and insurance adjusters has been postponed until cranes, welders and other equipment can be brought in. Firefighters must also help, Grube said, and the costly cleanup cannot be paid for by the county or the Fire Department.
A Gramco manager who refused to be identified confirmed late last week that the company is taking bids from equipment firms to begin demolition. He said he and other employees are at the site, and some service is available by phone.
Plans call for all operations to move to the company's Springville location by Oct. 1. He and another white-collar employee will lose their jobs but four other workers will stay on, he added.
"The Franklinville mill will be rebuilt somewhere and the stockholders will have to meet and decide what they want to do," he said.