Elizabeth Huwe and Marie Nitke, Forum News Service, Published January 22 2014
Offutt potato warehouse reduced to rubble in all-night fire
The warehouse, just northwest of Perham on Otter Tail County Highway 80, is owned by R.D. Offutt Co.
A news release from the company Wednesday confirmed the loss of the building along with “potatoes and miscellaneous equipment used in the loadout process.” The company is working with its insurers and local authorities to investigate the cause of the fire and determine the full extent of the damage.
The release also confirmed that no employees were injured.
Keith McGovern, the company’s CEO, stated, “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.”
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Perham Fire Chief Mark Schmidt said about 130 firefighters from 20 fire departments helped to battle the blaze, including all 17 of the Otter Tail County departments and three more from Becker County. That’s the most departments to ever assist with a fire in the Perham Fire District.
Crews worked from about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, when the fire was called in, until about 10 a.m. Wednesday, when the blaze was contained.
Schmidt said the mutual aid was necessary due to the fire’s size, the building’s location just outside city limits and the weather. Assisting fire departments supplied much-needed water and people power.
Not including the water used from Perham city wells, Schmidt said 610,000 gallons were used to subdue the flames.
No firefighters were injured, though Schmidt said there were a few falls due to icy conditions.
The weather posed some challenges. According to the National Weather Service, wind chills reached 20 degrees below zero overnight. The cold caused water spray and mist to freeze quickly, and it often iced up the firetrucks and froze doors shut.
Volunteers with the American Red Cross arrived in Perham at about 10:15 p.m. to serve snacks and coffee to the firefighters and emergency response workers. Brian Shawn of the Red Cross said they served 100 meals and 300 snacks, as well as at least 5 gallons of coffee.
Schmidt said the Salvation Army was also on the scene, as well as a Bauck school bus, which served as a warming hut for the firefighters.
“That helped a lot,” Schmidt said.
There was some initial concern that the fire could spread, but Schmidt said the wind changed direction at the right time, helping to alleviate that possibility.
An inspector with the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s Office was expected to arrive in Perham later Wednesday. An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.
When contacted for this story, neither a local history museum employee nor a retired Perham firefighter could immediately recall a commercial fire of this size, this close to Perham, since 1960, when there was an elevator fire at the McCabe Co., where Viking Feed Service now stands.