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All Great Falls residents can return to homes, officials say

GREAT FALLS — Emergency officials lifted the evacuation order for the remaining displaced residents of Great Falls residents at noon today.

State health officials said that there is no longer any toxicity in the air or water. Fire and police officials said the mill itself will be cordoned off, and patrols will monitor the site. State and local law enforcement continue to investigate the cause of the fire.

“I’m just ready to go home. It’s been a long week,” Johnny Stokes of Poplar Street said Tuesday.

About 1,285 residents — more than half the town of 2,200 — were evacuated for almost a week as fire fighters tried nearly everything to put out the fire at the 75-year-old mill.

Residents of 27 streets were evacuated and their streets closed. On Monday, 14 streets were re-opened and the residents allowed to return home.

During the last week, scores of firefighters from across the state fought with water hoses. Back hoe equipment was used on the ground and Black Hawk helicopters dumped thousands of gallons of water from overhead for two days. A state of emergency was declared and the governor came to the river town to see the effects of a mass evacuation and smoky ruins of the mill.

Residents returning home were told to open windows and to clear the air with fans or air conditioners. They also were told to run water for about two minutes.Mild soap and water was suggested to remove soot.

County officials are working to assess the total cost of the fire, Murphy said. But the only cost he knows of now is $38,000 in foam used to help extinguish the fire, he said.