A fire damaged the cyclone system at the Wisconsin Packaging Corp. plant in Fort Atkinson and sent smoke into the facility Wednesday morning. Fort Atkinson firefighters initially were dispatched at 11:58 a.m. The cause of the fire remains under investigation and is believed to be related to the cyclone system that recycles the corrugated material. Above, firefighters remove material from the cyclone system on the roof of the facility.

Fire damaged the cyclone system that collects the recycled corrugated material at the Wisconsin Packaging Corp. facility in Fort Atkinson Wednesday afternoon.

Fort Atkinson firefighters were dispatched at 11:58 a.m. Wednesday to respond to reports of a fire at the Wisconsin Packaging plant, located at 104 E. Blackhawk Drive.

Upon arrival, they found significant flames and smoke coming from the cyclone system on the roof of the plant.

Fort Atkinson Fire Chief Daryl Rausch said it initially was reported as a fire in the building that the maintenance crew thought they had extinguished.

He met with Wisconsin Packaging general manager Dan West who indicated they believed they had the fire under control within the building.

“Once we determined there was a fire, as the scrap material was coming down, we tried to contain it, so it wouldn’t start the inside of the building on fire,” West said. “We were able to contain it by dousing it with water.”

The corrugated material comes from all the other machines, and gets into the cyclone and gravitates from the top and then back down into a baler to get compressed into scrap bales and sent out for recycling.

West said crews doused the material as it was falling into the baler.

He noted that the primary concern was to keep the fire from spreading into the building, as the product is paper-based.

“It was our responsibility to contain the ignited paper from spreading inside the building,” West said.

The entire building, he said, was filled with smoke from the blaze.

West said insurance inspectors are expected to arrive Thursday to determine the impact on any product and the overall facility.

“We know there is some smoke damage but to what extent we don’t know yet until everybody checks it out,” he said.

Due to the damage to the cyclone, production is not expected to resume until Friday. West indicated this would impact approximately 50 employees.

He thanked all the Fort Atkinson Fire Department and other firefighters for their response.

The fire chief credited the Wisconsin Packaging maintenance crew for doing a good job of controlling the blaze until firefighters arrived.

“They thought they had the fire under control in the building but obviously outside it wasn’t,” Rausch said.

Three fire engines, the aerial ladder truck and another truck responded to the scene with a total of about 21 firefighters.

The chief said crews went inside to the baler room and another crew went up the aerial ladder truck to the roof.

Rausch was not certain if there ever was fire in the baler itself on the inside of the building.

From his perspective, it appeared the blaze was contained to the roof system.

“We ended up using foam in order to get the water to go down through,” he said.

Rausch said at minimum the cyclone system was damaged, although he could not speculate as to the extent of the damage.

The chief said he requested mutual aid under the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) box alarm system for additional personnel. Although the fire quickly was under control, it was important to rotate personnel during the overhaul process as the materials were removed from the shaft system.

Under the MABAS, Rausch requested the fire be dispatched as a “working still,” which brought firefighters from the Jefferson, Whitewater and Milton fire departments to provide additional personnel to fight the blaze.

Ryan Brothers Ambulance Service also had an ambulance on scene at the fire in the event of any issues with the firefighters or Wisconsin Packaging employees.

Rausch noted that two Wisconsin Packaging employees were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene. Both had been actively involved in fighting the fire. At the time of the fire, all employees were evacuated safely.

An engine from the Lake Mills Fire Department and a Jefferson EMS ambulance were staged at the Fort Atkinson fire station in the event of another emergency in the community.

Rausch said the colder temperatures did not have any impact on fighting the fire.

“Had we been there for a longer period of time, then cold would have been an issue but it was not a factor in fighting the fire,” he said.

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