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Firefighters continued dousing smoking piles of grain today after a fire destroyed the 51-year-old Gramco feed mill on Empire Street.

The blaze broke out at about 8 a.m. Sunday, and volunteers from 10 area fire companies brought it under control in the early afternoon. Flames sparked an adjacent warehouse and administrative offices as well as nearby homes and two businesses, Cattaraugus Container and Ontario Knife Co.

Fire investigators from the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department continued to seek clues to how the fire started.

Investigator Ron Herman, a Franklinville resident, said the fire came as a surprise since he had driven past the mill five minutes before the alarms began to sound. No employees were on the property when the blaze broke out, he said. The last had left at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Gramco owner Robert Mattison said that storage bins had been full of grain and that placing a dollar value on the damage would take some time. He also could make no predictions on the future of the mill, which employs seven workers.

Mattison said he hoped that phone service and electrical power could be restored today in the administrative building.

Activity continued at the site.

"We still have people on the scene. The scene will be guarded. It is smoking really bad, and we're still putting out the hot spots," Scott Allen, an emergency medical technician for the Franklinville Fire Department, said Sunday night.

Franklinville Fire Chief Ron Clark said extremely flammable grain dust posed problems for firefighters. After the fire was brought under control, heavy equipment was brought in to carefully tear away sheet-metal siding covering the lower portions of the storage bins.

Some of that grain was untouched by the fire and was spilled on the wet ground around the mill. But the operation also exposed charred and smoldering stores of grain that sent clouds of smoke over the village.

Joe Wojnarowski of Empire Street, who had worked for Gramco for 48 years before retiring from his management job two years ago, recalled that conditions at the mill were safe.

The facility produced feed for every type of farm animal, using locally grown oats and corn, as well as grains such as soybeans that were delivered by tractor-trailer, he said.

"This is going to affect a lot of farmers," Wojnarowski said.

Several people living within a block of the mill said they had smelled an unusual odor, similar to smoke, around the site during the 24 hours before the fire.

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