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Elizabeth Huwe, Forum News Service, Published January 22 2014

VIDEO: 'It's going to be a long night': Firefighters battle potato warehouse fire near Perham

PERHAM, Minn. – Fire crews worked through the night to extinguish a blaze that destroyed an R.D. Offutt Co. potato warehouse near Perham.

A Perham police officer at the scene said the fire was reported about 4:20 p.m. Tuesday. Witnesses said the fire originated in the south part of the building and spread north.

At least two semi trucks were seen burning inside the structure that has a footprint of 200 feet by 300 feet. An unknown amount of potatoes and loading equipment were lost. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

“We are very thankful that no one was injured and would like to thank the emergency responders and volunteers who were involved in fighting and controlling this fire,” R.D. Offut CEO Keith McGovern said in a statement.

As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, at least 13 area fire departments were working to contain the fire.

“It’s going to be a long night,” said Frazee firefighter Tyler King.

That long night stretched well into Wednesday morning. The last firefighters left the scene about 9 a.m., a Otter Tail County dispatcher said.

King said crews ran into some issues with fire hydrants freezing up Tuesday evening, but city workers quickly solved the problem. A broken water main in the area also added to the night’s challenges, but did not have much of an effect on water pressure at other hydrants.

Lake Region Electric Cooperative crews were also present after the fire broke out. A Lake Region representative said they shut off power to the warehouse and cut away all electric cables connected to it.

After part of the south-facing exterior wall collapsed at about 6:15 p.m., heavy equipment was used to pull down the remaining side of the structure and remove debris.

The building is just west of Perham, on Otter Tail County Highway 80.

According to a news release from the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office, an R.D. Offutt employee reported the fire after noticing smoke coming from the warehouse.

Perham EMS and a school bus were on the scene to provide support and a warming area for firefighters and law enforcement officers.

Volunteers with the American Red Cross also were setting up at the Perham Fire Hall to provide food, water, coffee and hot chocolate for the roughly 120 first responders.

Roads around the warehouse area were blocked off during the initial emergency response, but traffic controllers began letting vehicles through later in the evening.

After the burning material was pushed back from the railroad, train traffic was allowed to resume through the area as well.

R.D. Offutt Co. is the nation’s largest potato producer. The company’s corporate headquarters is in Fargo.