Hanley Falls residents awoke Friday morning to a frightening sight -- an intense fire engulfing the Farmers Cooperative Elevator. Volunteer firefighters and emergency responders from at least 10 departments were quickly on the scene battling the flames and evacuating nearby residents.
According to first responders, nobody was injured during the blaze and firefighters succeeded in preventing the spread of the fire to surrounding structures. The fire completely destroyed the traditional wood-crib elevator, which was built in 1959.
According to the Yellow Medicine County Sheriff’s office, the fire was first reported by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad crew at around 4:30 a.m. By the time first responders arrived on scene, flames were visibly consuming the wood structure.
FCE General Manager Scott Dubbelde hailed the rapid arrival of first responders. “We’re really proud of the fire departments and city crew,” he said, adding that “they are a huge asset to our communities. They did a bang-up job.”
Dubbelde said that the first priority for the FCE was ensuring the safety of workers and the surrounding community. He said that it is too early to know the extent of the damage, although he expressed hoped that the adjacent concrete silos avoided damage.
At the time of the fire, the elevator was filled halfway with grain. There were no FCE employees present when the fire began. The elevator is used primarily for storing corn, oats, and soybeans.
Hanley Falls Fire Department Chief Paul Neisius said that the cause of the fire remains unknown, though an investigation into the origins is currently underway.
According to firefighters on the scene the morning of the fire, local residents were lucky that the prevailing winds carried the majority of the soot and embers away from the city center. Instead, the southwest breeze carried the smoke along the Minnesota River, depositing black ash and cinders on a small handful of homes directly adjacent to the burning elevator.
Firefighters used the Yellow Medicine River as a water source during their firefighting efforts. The Marshall and Montevideo fire departments assisted by bringing aerial ladder trucks, allowing firefighters to aim a steady stream of water on the burning structure. Firefighters were also seen using water to create a perimeter around the elevator to prevent the spread of the inferno.
Dubbelde said that the fire will not hinder or impede normal operations at the Hanley Falls elevator because a larger storage and operation facility are located on the opposite side of the city. The FCE also runs other elevators in the area, which Dubblede says will help the FCE offset the loss of the Hanley Falls elevator. “Our patrons shouldn’t see a change in level of service,” Dubblede added.
Although firefighters succeeded in bringing the blaze under control, responders remained on the scene to monitor the smoldering rubble and to make sure that falling debris didn’t re-ignite. Dubblede said that Gregerson Salvage out of Waubay, S.D. was hired to clear up the site, adding that the company had plenty of prior experience with elevator fire clean-ups.
At this time, the FCE does not know how long the clean-up will take, or how much the clean-up and possible repairs will cost. Dubblede said that the elevator was insured, through reiterated that their primary concern at this point was making sure everybody was safe.
Fire departments who assisted in the response included Hanley Falls, Granite Falls, Wood Lake, Echo, Clarkfield, St. Leo, Porter, Canby, Cottonwood, Marshall, and Montevideo. Ambulance crews also arrived from Granite Falls and Cottonwood.