Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Fire destroys former Baldwin Feed and Seed Building

Before firefighters even arrived on the scene of a tremendous blaze at the former Baldwin Feed and Seed in downtown Baldwin, it was apparent that little could be done to save the structure, which was completely engulfed in flames shortly after the start of the fire.

A spectacular blaze in the former Baldwin Feed and Seed grain elevator in downtown Baldwin totally destroyed the structure Thursday, April 3.

The fire started around 4:00 p.m. and firefighters from United Fire and Rescue and six other area departments called for mutual aid, remained on the site until about 11:30 Thursday evening.

The structure was owned by Lee Seim of the Town of Springfield. He said the structure contained about 2,500 bushels of corn, 1,500 bushels of oats, some soybeans and some minerals that were used as feed ingredients. He said the structure was not insured. Seim said he he's not sure about what he is going to do for storage in the future, but he will have to buy grain to make up for what was lost.

Gary Newton, Baldwin Station Chief of United Fire and Rescue, said that determining a cause of the fire is impossible because the structure was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived on the scene and the intense heat generated by the fire. He said reports of explosions or pops coming from the fire could perhaps be explained by the presence of a large amount of feed dust in the structure that explodes in a fire.

Firefighters were hampered fighting the fire by the size of water mains in the area of Baldwin Feed and Seed. Newton said that in the older portion of town the mains are only four inches in diameter and United Fire and the mutual aid departments had the capacity to pump much more water than could be derived from the three hydrants that were tapped. For that reason several tanker truck loads of water were hauled in from other locations.

Approximately 160,000 gallons of water was poured on the fire from hydrants and additional water hauled in from Hammond and Woodville amounted to another 20,000 gallons, said Newton.

Mutual aid was supplied by the fire departments of Glenwood City, Spring Valley, Roberts, River Falls, New Richmond and Hudson.

Newton said that when initially on the scene firefighters sprayed water on gas lines to cool them and then ensured that the natural gas supply to the structure was halted. The St. Croix County Emergency Communications Center also notified the railroad to halt all rail traffic through Baldwin. When the fire was controlled, a train master was sent out to inspect the tracks before trains were allowed to travel on them.

The pleasant spring weather, combined with the spectacular nature of the blaze, brought out hundreds of walkers who watched the progress of the fire.

Many observers said the intensity of the fire hadn't been seen locally since the fire on December 26, 1980 that destroyed Heebink's Millwork when it was located in downtown Baldwin.

A firm has been hired to remove the metal from the debris remaining from the fire, said Seim. He said a determination of what to do with the wood and grain remnants has not been made.

Seim said he bought the elevator in 2004 from the family of Dennis Eggen.

According to Don Makuch, a former owner of Baldwin Feed and Seed, the original elevator was built in 1895 by Ben Nibblink. He sold the business to Chris Johnson and George Nyeggen. Later Nyeggen became sole owner of the business and then in the late 1950s he sold it to his son-in-law Milt Lane.

Makuch said he bought the business from Milt Lane in 1978 and ran it until September of 1984 when he sold it to Dennis Eggen. Another fire a day earlier forced a Baldwin family from their home. The fire was at the David and Sarah Weiske residence southeast of Baldwin on 55th Avenue.

The residence is owned by Gerald and Mary Ann Peterson.

The fire was reported Wednesday morning by David Weiske. It started in a closet under a stairway, according to Newton.

Sarah Weiske said the fire was contained but the home suffered from extensive heat and smoke damage. The family has moved in with relatives while the home is being completely cleaned down to the studs, which she said may take up to three months.