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Former IP plant silos catch fire Tuesday night

Kevin Cooper | The Natchez Democrat — Wood chips caught fire Tuesday evening inside an aerial conveyor belt at the former International Paper Natchez mill on Carthage Point Road in Natchez. Workers at the mill, currently owned by Rentech, were apparently disassembling portions of the plant when the fire broke out.

NATCHEZ — A portion of the former International Paper mill at the site now owned by Rentech caught fire Tuesday night.

Multiple Natchez Fire Department and Adams County Sheriff’s Office units were dispatched to the scene on Carthage Point Road just before 7:30 p.m.

One fire truck remained on the scene until after 9 p.m.

Kevin Cooper | The Natchez Democrat — Smoke billows from an aerial conveyor belt Tuesday night at the former International Paper Natchez mill, currently owned by Rentech. Witnesses at the scene said wood chips still in the conveyor may have been accidentally ignited by workers who were disassembling portions of the plant.

Rentech Property Manager George Bearry said the fire was located in the former wood chip silos and the conveyor housing on top of it.

The area, he said, most likely had residual sawdust in it that would be flammable.

No cause of fire had been determined Tuesday night, but Bearry said outside crews were on the site earlier in the day working to remove equipment.

Bearry was not at the site when the fire started, nor were any other Rentech employees.

The crews — hired by another company — have been working recently to remove a boiler from the site.

Bearry said the work of those crews is the only work ongoing at the site.

Fire department officials determined it was safe to let the fire burn out, but remained on the scene to ensure it did not spread.

Parts of a wooden walkway that was inside the conveyor housing were crumbling and falling, Bearry confirmed.

International Paper closed the Adams County facility in 2003.

Rentech purchased the former International Paper property in mid-2008. The announced plans were to develop the site as a coal-to-liquid alternative fuels production facility.

In late 2011, the company announced that it would not be constructing the planned facility in Natchez.

The property has sat, largely unused, since IP’s closure. Much of the IP facility has already been removed.