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Keith Norman, Forum News Service, Published December 05 2013

Five departments credited with saving Kensal, N.D., elevator

KENSAL, N.D. - A daylong fire Tuesday at Kensal Farmers Elevator resulted in limited structural damage thanks to the efforts of five fire departments, according to Dave Kramer, chief of the Kensal Fire Department. The fire was first reported about 8 a.m. Tuesday and was not extinguished until about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Kramer said his department received assistance from the Courtenay, Carrington, Pingree and Jamestown fire departments in fighting the fire.

“About 9:30 or 10 a.m. (Tuesday) we didn’t think we’d have an elevator left,” he said. “We had flames 2 or 3 feet tall in the bin.”

The bin contained an estimated 5,000 bushels of wheat and soybean screenings. Screenings include weed seed, straw and chaff, partial kernels and beans, and other items screened from the crop prior to shipping.

Kramer said his department had a difficult time reaching the fire.

“We used chain saws and axes to get access,” he said.

Kramer said once they got access to the bin, they were able to knock down the fire. This left the screenings smoldering within the bin.

Larry Philips of Jamestown, who teaches grain elevator fighting through Signal 10 and Northwest Region Fire/Rescue, witnessed the firefighting efforts Tuesday.

“My observations from the beginning were that the initial operation undertaken by the Kensal Fire Department saved the entire complex,” he said. “The firefighters immediately found the seat of the fire and attacked it where it was found and held it in check until a sustained water supply could be established.”

That water supply came in the form of a 3,000-gallon portable drop tank set up by the Carrington Fire Department. Tanker trucks from the various fire departments were used to shuttle water to the drop tank which was then pumped into the elevator to fight the fire.

This controlled the fire until equipment could be brought in to remove the smoldering screenings from the bin, Philips said.

“We used grain vacs to remove the screenings,” Kramer said. “But in the end, it was as much scoop shovels as anything to get the screenings out.”

The last screenings were removed and the fire was considered out at about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Kramer said.

Miles Armstrong, manager at Kensal Farmers Elevator, said the damage was minimal.

“No structural damage,” he said. “Some damage to the bin but that can be rebuilt easily.”

Armstrong said the elevator was saved by a community effort.

“A big thanks to all the volunteers,” he said. “Not just the firefighters but the farmers who brought in grain vacs and the Red Cross and everybody involved. Everybody got together and put their heads together and got ’er done.”

Kramer said the likely cause of the fire was spontaneous combustion. Some of the screening may have been stored wet which causes decomposition. This generates heat which can result in dry materials igniting.

“This wasn’t an easy routine fire,” Philips said. “It was deep-seated, they found it, and the proof of their success is that the elevator complex is still standing with little damage.”