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Elevator a total loss after Sunday blaze

A Devils Lake firefighter monitors a hose aimed at a hotspot in the burning Dakota Dry Bean elevator Monday morning. Eric Hylden Forum News Service

By Ryan Bakken

Forum News Service

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — Despite efforts of firefighters working in wind chills falling to 56 below zero, the Dakota Dry Bean elevator here is a total loss.

Dakota Dry Bean owner Dave Polries of Grand Forks said the loss was $1 million — $600,000 for the elevator and its equipment and $400,000 for the 100,000 bushels of pea byproducts inside. Polries bought the elevator in 2004, when it was a Peavey elevator.

The cause of the fire, spotted by a police officer at 8:07 p.m. Sunday, has not been determined. However, Devils Lake Fire Chief Jim Moe said he and state Fire Marshal Bruce Langerud believe the fire likely started in the upper half of the elevator.

Moe said it took only a few minutes for a crew inside the elevator to realize that the fire couldn’t be stopped without risking harm to firefighters.

“We made the choice to not fight it from the inside,” said Moe, a 37-year veteran of the fire department. “With the unpredictable circumstances, including the cold weather, there was potential danger to the workers.

“My experience with elevators is you typically don’t save them. There are layers and layers of heavy timber and it’s virtually impossible to access the areas you need to get into.”

Instead, the firefighters — 35 from the city and approximately 30 from neighboring rural fire districts — took shifts pouring water on the elevator from the outside in a containment strategy. They rotated because of the conditions, which included a 10 p.m. Sunday reading of 24 below temperature with 23 mph northwest winds, for a wind chill of minus 56.

Despite the shift work, two firefighters were treated for frostbite.

Firefighters were on the scene quickly, as the elevator is just one block north of the fire station. And the equipment held up despite the frigid temperatures, Moe said.

Moe said fires are more common in times of severe cold because the low temperatures tax electrical systems. “In the case of the elevator, though, we’re not sure of the cause,” he said.

“However, we know this is probably the worst conditions we’ve ever fought a fire.”

Said Polries: “We appreciate all the hard work the fire department did in a long, rough night.”

Kevin Bonham contributed to this article.