Fire destroys Merrimack Paper Mill in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Mass. (WHDH) – Sky7HD was over the flames in Lawrence Monday while an abandoned paper mill burned for the third time in the past five years.

On-lookers said the fire started small, but at its height it reached three alarms.

"We started to see a little bit of flames, and then the whole building just took over with flames, the smoke was everywhere…dark, dark clouds of it,” Lauren Melvin said.

Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the blaze, they say the building has been empty for 15 years.

"You're a city like ours and you have these structures that are kind of monstrosities, some of them go into disrepair and blight. It's hard for people to keep a hold of them they're so big,” Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said.

All three of the fires since 2009 have appeared suspicious according to authorities.

"I am told there were people who were here before we were,” Fire Chief John Marsh said.

The building was deemed unsafe in 2009 and was scheduled to be knocked down.

"It's the issue of trying to get people who own it to take responsibility for their property and it wasn't the case here. To me that's yesterday. Today, we're trying to make sure people are safe,” Rivera said.

The mayor says the building is supposed to have security paid for by the owner. The homeless have been known to stay there.

"This is a reason why they go and smoke cigarettes have a place to live, cook whatever and this is what happens. They should open up more places for homeless people to live in,” Victor Ramos, one of the witnesses said.

Firefighters didn’t go inside the building for fear that there might be propane or oxygen tanks that could explode. They continued to battle hit spots late into Monday night.