CARPIO - A grain elevator fire resulting from an explosion Monday still hadn't been extinguished as of Wednesday afternoon.
Kalvin Myers, chief of the Carpio Fire Department, said an explosion hit the Berthold Farmers Elevator in Carpio around 3 p.m. Monday. He said the explosion happened in one of the grain handling legs of the elevator.
"People in town heard a big boom, and they looked out and flames were shooting out the top of the elevator," Myers said. "That's when we got the call."
Workers unload a silo at Berthold Farmers Elevator into a waiting semi in Carpio Wednesday morning. Crews had to unload the silos in order to get better access to a stubborn fire within.
Until the fire is out and crews can take a look inside, it's difficult to say what caused the explosion. Myers said one possibility is a bad bearing, while another could be that the leg stopped and the motor burned through the belt.
"We haven't been able to take time to look at that yet," Myers said. "Once we get the fire out then we can kind of try and determine more. That's kind of a guesstimate right now."
Thankfully there have been no injuries related to the explosion and fire.
When the explosion first occurred Monday afternoon, Myers said a 500-foot radius around the elevator was evacuated as a precaution in case further explosions followed. The nearby Canadian Pacific Railway tracks were also closed temporarily.
Monday evening residents were allowed back into their homes once the greatest threat of more explosions had passed. The railroad tracks were also reopened.
Although the threat of more explosions seems to have passed, Myers said residents and businesses are still advised to remain alert and be ready to get out at a moment's notice.
"Be alert of everything and be ready, but at this time it's safe," Myers said. "We don't expect anything to happen, but we're monitoring it all the time. Hopefully we don't have to do that (evacuate again)."
He said the fire was still burning on top inside the silos, so they were pumping water up there to keep it under control. Their immediate goal Wednesday afternoon was to empty the silos of grain. This would not only save as much of the product as possible, but also rob the fire of its fuel and allow crews better access to the fire in the silos.
"Most of them were full or close to full. A lot of them are too full to get down in there and be able to get the fire out," Myers said. "The grain is too close to the hole that they can get into."
Myers believed the silos held durum wheat, corn and soybeans.
One of the initial difficulties was simply getting up to the fire. At 160 feet tall, the silos posed quite a challenge to firefighting crews. In addition to Carpio, crews from Berthold and Burlington, and some specialists from South Dakota, have been on hand to help.
They finally managed to get a crane on site Tuesday to get some hoses up to the top and put water on the fire. Without the crane, Myers said there was no way to get hoses up to the top.
"It gets a lot of weight in that hose to carry it up that far - 160 feet," Myers said.
He said the crew from South Dakota, Gregerson Salvage Inc., was doing all the actual fire suppression work at the top of the silos while Carpio firefighters provided support on the ground.
"They're the ones actually doing all the roof work there. They're on top, none of my firemen are on top," Myers said. "We're just supplying security around the place, watching for safety stuff and supplying the water up to them. The specialists are taking care of the roof, the fire, and now they're getting ready to get the grain out."
Myers said it was nice having Gregerson Salvage Inc. to lean on because his department has never encountered a situation like this before.
"We've never had to deal with an elevator fire, and then especially that high in the air. We just don't have any way of getting up there," Myers said. "And they know what to look for; that's what they do. So they're here and it's great having them on scene."
Late Tuesday night they were able to get some rest as the fire was at least somewhat under control, according to Myers.
"Last night about midnight there was just smoldering so everybody went and took a nap. We just had guys watching it all night. Then this morning we went back up and started pouring water in there where we can," Myers said. "Right now we still have guys doing that and then they're working on getting some of the product out so they can get a little more room and assess everything as they work on getting room in there. The less grain in there the better."
Myers said there is no timeline on when they might finally be able to put the fire out completely. He said the fire that can be reached was put out by Wednesday morning, and it was just a matter of getting the grain silos emptied so the South Dakota crew could gain access to the rest of the fire, which still burned somewhere in the elevator.
"One thing about fire, when there's a fire in another place that can keep burning and they can't reach it, you put the fire out in one spot, that kind of keeps things warm, dries things out, and then it comes back," Myers said. "So the goal is now to drop the levels of the grain so they can get in there and get all the fire out. Just a little while ago I heard that the grain is not on fire itself; it's just inside the elevator."