An old wooden grain elevator with two tall structures about 80 feet high covered with corrugated steel and the newer office building next to them were destroyed by a fire Sunday in Mina, South Dakota, 10 miles west of Aberdeen.
Tracy Hutson, chief of the Ipswich Volunteer Fire Department, said adjacent steel grain bins were damaged a little but survived. However, firefighters were on the scene until 8 a.m., Monday and it took hours to knock it down and save other structures in the area as 50 mph winds spread flames fast.
The dangerous fire in a tiny, unincorporated town showed how much community spirit is a part of South Dakota life, as volunteer firefighters from several departments and farmers and others from the area came to help, according to Hutson.
The fire spread to nearby areas threatening other buildings and involved up to 60 firefighters from several rural volunteer departments, Hutson said.
“We got the call about 11:15 a.m., (Sunday)” Hutson told the Capital Journal on Monday.
Up to 60 firefighters responded, with “mutual aid” coming from the Aberdeen Rural Fire Department, as well as from Roscoe, Leola and Columbia volunteer departments, he said.
It appeared the fire began in the office, but it’s not certain yet, Hutson said.
“No foul play is suspected. When we arrived there was heavy smoke coming from all sides (of the elevator). We tried to cool off the fire but whole elevator was fully engulfed.”
Newer steel bin structures nearby were damaged but not ruined, he said.
The elevator had not been in use yet this spring, he said, except for the furnace in the office used to keep things from freezing.
The elevator is owned by two farmers for their own use and is not a licensed commercial grain warehouse, he said.
The fire sparked several other flareups, including one that threatened a nearby barn and burned up some hay bales, as well as a large grass fire.
The high winds and dry conditions led to several other fires in the region on Sunday.
Traffic on U.S. Highway 12 and on the BNSF Railway line that goes by the north side of the elevator was shut down for several hours as smoke cut visibility, Hutson said.
“With the wind like it was, it got into the neighbor’s hay yard then proceeded to cross Highway 12,, burned some more grass before it jumped another county road and caught some more hay bales on fire.”
“We managed to save all the buildings and homes that were threatened.”
There were cattle, sheep and goats on the farm and none were injured, Hutson said.
The grain elevator area had not been in use yet this spring and the old, tall structures were empty of grain, he said. However, the dried, dusty wood took off fast in the flames, he said.
The newer office had a furnace to make sure pipes and other things inside didn’t freeze, he said.
Other fires sprang up across the region Sunday, forcing some of the firefighters on scene to leave to fight elsewhere, Hutson said.
The fire was only a short distances across a field from where champion golfer Payne Stewart died with five others in the crash of a Lear jet in 1999, after depressurization led to oxygen deprivation of the two pilots and four passengers. The jet had veered off course on a trip from Florida to Texas and ran out of fuel.
Hutson said the Ipswich department responded to the 1999 jet crash scene just a short distance from Sunday's fire.
Hutson posted an eloquent thank-you on the department’s Facebook page that lines out how small communities rally to an emergency (in an edited version here): “I want to thank all the firefighter wives that brought food to us and M station and the the numerous people around the Mina area that brought us everything from water to cookies ,sandwiches, pizza and who knows what else they brought, It was very much appreciated.
Thanks to the neighbors who brought skid-steers (loaders) , pay-loaders and water trucks and also helped move livestock.
Huge thanks to our neighboring departments that came for mutual aid: Roscoe fire, Leola fire , Columbia fire and Aberdeen rural fire; and. Ipswich Ambulance
Thanks to the Edmunds County Sheriffs Office, McPherson Country Sheriffs Office, South Dakota Highway Patrol for the traffic control and whatever else they assisted with.
Thanks to Glacial Lake Energy for the numerous loads of water .
Thanks to Prescription Ag, Agtegra and the, Grassland Colony for your tanks of water that you brought us. We couldn’t have succeeded in our efforts with out everyone’s help.”