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Fire sweeps factory complex

LOWELL, Mass. -- Firefighters worked today to contain a blaze that raged all night through a 19th century factory complex, destroying or damaging six buildings and causing an estimated $15 million in damage, officials said.

The nine-alarm fire at the Lawrence Manufacturing Complex broke out at 5:45 p.m. EST Monday and was still burning today, fire officials said.

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One firefighter, Lt. Walter Kilbride, suffered smoke inhalation and was in fair condition early today at St. Joseph's Hospital.

Mulligan said firefighters were hampered by the intense heat. 'The buildings are close together and it's so hot you can't stand it long,' he said.

Officials compared the fire to the Jan. 12 Kerr Mill Complex fire in Fall River, which caused more than $30 million damage and cost an estimated 900 jobs.

Most businesses destroyed in that fire have decided to relocate in Fall River, with the help of $10 million in local and federal aid.

Lowell Mayor Robert Kennedy called Monday's fire a 'tragedy' and said state and local officials would meet today to discuss recovery plans. He said state Sen. Paul Sheehy planned to file legislation for state aid, using Fall River as a model.

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The fire at the mostly vacant complex dealt a serious blow to plans to revitalize Lowell's downtown area.

The partially destroyed Lawrence Manufacturing building -- the largest structure in the complex -- was scheduled for renovation as campus housing for the University of Lowell.

'This is a real blow to the city of Lowell,' City Councilor Edmond Coutu said. 'The university was going to spend about $180 million renovating this building.'

Flames spread quickly because of wood floors in the building and because the sprinkler system apparently was shut off, but Mulligan said it was 'too early to tell' if arson was involved.

The six buildings, once part of a 19th century textile manufacturing center, were mostly vacant, but still housed a textile machinery manufacturer, a publishing company warehouse and several other businesses, officials said.

The buildings in the complex were among the oldest in Lowell.

Coutu said fewer than 100 people still worked in the complex. He estimated damage would be 'at least $15 million.' Fire department officials had no immediate damage estimate.

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