The Abilene Reporter-News building caught fire last Friday at 3 a.m., delaying San Angelo and Abilene’s printing capabilities through Saturday night.
Mike Hall, vice president of operations at the Abilene Reporter-News, said the press had just been shut down after printing The Optimist when the crew reported smelling smoke and seeing flames coming from the press units. The crew tried to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher but soon had to call the Fire Department.
Hall said the fire did not get hot enough to set off sprinklers in the press room, but flames did reach the paper webs – sheets that feed through the press for publications.
“The fire hit those, they caught fire and the whole building filled with smoke,” Hall said.
The Fire Department arrived within five minutes and doused the flames with about 100 gallons of water, Hall said.
“It was still burning but was mostly the rubber rollers within the unit,” he said. Hall said it was several hours before employees were allowed to return to the building, because the fire marshal had to ensure carbon monoxide levels were safe. This caused the publication delay that stretched into Saturday night. The building reopened at 6 a.m., and the crew returned to work.
“Saturday’s paper was late, and that was because it just took us quite some time before the fire marshal allowed us to start the press again,” Hall said. “But, by Saturday night we were caught up for Sunday’s newspaper. The biggest problem was for Saturday’s publication for both San Angelo and our newspapers.”
The cause of the fire is still unknown, but Hall said the most likely source is an electrical short. Lt. Clifton Morrison, investigator in the Abilene Fire Department, is in charge of the investigation. He said he will continue looking for the cause, and he is determining how to prevent a fire like this from happening again.
Hall said appropriate precautions have been taken.
“We have a good system in place, but until we can find the source of the fire, we really don’t know what else we can do,” Hall said. “Electrical fires happen. Once we know more, whatever precautions are necessary, we will certainly take them.”
No one was injured in the fire, only a color press unit. The press usually operates on four color units, but Hall said the crew is managing with three.
“It will affect some color capabilities,” he said. “We hope to have it back in about two weeks.”
Hall said the crew is still cleaning up from Friday’s fire.
“We still have to repair the press and mitigate some other smoke damages, but we’re back to our normal running schedule,” he said.