Multi-alarm fire strikes historic mill complex in Kent


Matt Brown

Firefighters rise into the blaze in downtown Kent.

Click here to view more photos from the fire.

Heavy fire consumed multiple buildings of the former Star of the West Mill on North Water Street Friday morning around 9 a.m., as smoke visible for miles billowed northward across the skies of downtown Kent.

The building began to smoke around 8:30 a.m. — the Kent Fire Department received a call around 8:45 a.m.

“When fire crews arrived, there was heavy black smoke with a lot of flame inside,” said Bill Myers, Kent’s fire chief, during a press conference around 11:45 a.m. “We had an explosion inside the building, unclear of why that happened at this time.”

The explosion appeared to punch a large hole in the brick facade that faces North Water Street, with debris landing on an SUV parked in front. At that point, a second alarm was called, and up to six aerial ladder trucks were fighting the fire by mid-morning.

Myers said no one was injured in the fire.

“We’re unable to go inside the building at this time, just because of the fact the building’s been compromised by that explosion,” he said. “So, it’s mostly exterior operations, and we hope to have this continuing on until finally all the fuel is burned out. We could be here another five, six hours, unknown.”

Bo Hall, an employee at Townhall II, was evacuated with other employees around 8:55 a.m. from the agency’s offices at 155 N. Water St.

“We came out, and the whole building was just up in smoke. There were no flames yet,” they said. “Five minutes after that, it was like this big whoosh of fire. It was like licking up the entire building.”

Preston Pasco, owner of Splatter Goat Grip Tape, the skate shop on North Water Street, witnessed the fire from its start. He saw firefighters on the scene within minutes, breaking down the front door of the mill complex to attack the fire. Scribbles Coffee Co. was evacuated, but Pasco was allowed to watch from his building.

“Maybe within five minutes from that point, the front of the building exploded out, so that’s when the fire actually took on,” Pasco said. “Air had to escape from somewhere, so it blew out the front of the building. There was a silver SUV sitting directly in front of the building that was crushed under the brick.”

Kent, Streetsboro, Ravenna, Munroe Falls, Hudson and Tallmadge fire departments responded to the fire, among others. Ben Stasik, deputy fire chief of Tallmadge, arrived for the second alarm. A metal structure at the top of one of the buildings, part of the complex that doesn’t include the mill’s silos, collapsed around 9 a.m.

“It’s a shell now, but it was completely intact,” Hall said.

The flour mill, originally called the Peerless Roller Mills, was started by the Williams brothers in the 1800s.

“It’s a tragedy for the city of Kent. We’ve lost some of our most iconic buildings through fire unfortunately,” said Henry Halem, a volunteer and digital archivist for the Kent Historical Society.

Stasik said the fire is defensive in nature, which means the departments will focus on attacking the fire from the outside until it is under control.

“With the heavy amount of fire, we’re not going to be able to make any kind of interior type attack for quite some time,” Stasik said.

Police cordoned off streets surrounding the fire. The City of Kent requested in an email that residents limit water to conserve it for firefighters to use.

KentWired will continue reporting on the fire throughout the day. Follow our coverage on Twitter and Instagram and watch the TV2 News live stream at 6 p.m. for more updates.