HANLEY FALLS, Minn. – Volunteer firefighters and emergency responders went door-to-door evacuating residents near the Hanley Falls Farmers Cooperative Elevator early Friday morning as flames glowed from the burning structure spewed.
No one was injured, and the local firefighters – with help from at least 10 other departments – were able to contain the blaze to the traditional wood-crib elevator on the west side of the community.
“What they do is just amazing,’’ said Scott Dubbelde, general manager of the Farmers Cooperative Elevator, of the efforts by the volunteers. “We’re really blessed to have those folks in our communities. They just did it.’’
A Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad crew spotted and reported the fire around 4:30 a.m., according to the Yellow Medicine Sheriff’s Department.
Hanley Falls Fire Department Chief Paul Neisius said flames were already erupting from the wooden structure as the first volunteers reached the scene minutes later. He said the first to arrive realized immediately that more help was needed, and sent out calls to area departments.
Protecting neighboring structures from the burning embers and “making sure that everybody was safe’’ were the top priorities as the firefighters set up to battle the blaze, said the chief.
The wood-crib elevator, built in 1959, was about half full of grain at the time it was destroyed, according to Dubbelde. It held corn, oats and soybeans and was used only for storage. No staff members were in the structure at the time the fire was discovered.
As the fire quickly grew in intensity, a wind from the southwest carried embers into a residential area of the community of just over 300 people along the Yellow Medicine River, southwest of Granite Falls in Yellow Medicine County. Firefighters used the river as a source of water for their efforts. The Montevideo and Marshall fire departments brought aerial ladder trucks to the scene, and they kept a steady stream of water on the burning structure, as well as on two adjacent concrete grain silos.
Dubbelde said it is too early to know whether the concrete silos or their contents were damaged, but from their appearance he is hopeful they escaped harm.
Once the blaze was controlled, concerns turned to making certain the smoldering pile of wood and grain did not flare up or cause other, recurring issues. A crew and their equipment from Gregerson Salvage of Waubay, S.D., was expected to reach the scene later Friday to manage and clean up the site. Dubbelde said the company is fully equipped for this type of work and has a long history of dealing with elevator fire cleanups.
The cause of the fire is not known at this time, and is under investigation, according to Chief Neisius.
The fire will not impact operations at the Hanley Falls elevator. Its largest storage and operation facilities are separately located on the south side of the community, and the cooperative also owns and operates facilities in neighboring communities. All employees are on the job and patrons can expect service as normal, according to the general manager.
Dubbelde said he credits the “heavy lifting’’ done by all the volunteers, as well as law enforcement from throughout the area, with keeping everyone safe and bringing a major fire under control. “We have to put things in perspective,’’ he said. “No one got hurt. We’ll deal with this. We were real fortunate, that’s just the bottom line.’’