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Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Fire destroyed a 40- by 150- foot bus garage and seven buses Monday afternoon at Priester Bus Service in Pipestone. Damage has been estimated at $750,000 and early indications are attributed to an electrical source.

Fire destroys seven buses, garage in Pipestone

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

PIPESTONE -- A fire that ravaged the Priester Bus Service garage in Pipestone Monday afternoon and destroyed seven of the fleet's 11 buses has left the business' owner, Jerry Priester thankful for so many things.

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He's thankful that no one was injured in the blaze, he's appreciative to the firefighters for their quick response and he's glad that while six of the seven buses lost were refueled that morning, the nearby fuel tanks were completely empty. They were slated to be refilled that afternoon.

The three-alarm fire was reported at 1:21 p.m. Monday when a passerby noticed flames coming from the bus garage, located at 509 Eighth Ave. NE, (U.S. 75) near the intersection of Minnesota 23. According to Pipestone County Sheriff Dan Delaney, the Pipestone, Holland and Jasper fire departments were paged immediately due to the size of the structural fire. Also responding were two Pipestone County ambulances and the Pipestone County Sheriff's Office.

Priester, who was walking his dog in the neighborhood, was about a block and a half away when he noticed the blaze. He began running toward the building, and then stopped to call 911. By that time, someone else had already called in.

"I got there ... and 15-foot flames were coming out of the front and the side," Priester said, adding that there were seven explosions -- "loud booms" -- one from each fuel tank from the seven buses.

"We blocked Highway 75 and the fire department had hoses across the highway," Delaney said of the response. A nearby chemical business, Crop Production Services, was also evacuated.

"Their mobile trucks were removed from their building site due to the extreme heat and proximity of the fire," Delaney explained, adding that there was no damage to any of the chemical company's property.

Firefighters remained on the scene for approximately four hours Monday, and the State Fire Marshal spent much of Tuesday on the scene. The preliminary investigation points to an electrical fire, but the investigation is continuing.

"Yesterday was the very first day I plugged (the buses) in," said Priester. "I have timers on my outlets out there to warm up the motors from noon until about 2:30. I have two buses per timer."

Priester said the insurance fire marshal had yet to arrive on the scene by Tuesday afternoon, and an electrical engineer was going to be called in to look at the destruction as well. The damage estimate is in the neighborhood of $750,000 for the 40- by 150-foot building and the seven buses, which ranged in age from a 1997 to a 2010 model.

The fire caused little disruption for the hundreds of Pipestone Area School students who rely on bussing to get home from class.

Mike Ludolph, owner of Ludolph Bus Service, Inc., which has the school bussing contract, contracts with Priester Bus Service for 11 buses. He said three buses were brought in from Ludolph's line in Slayton to help get kids home from school Monday. They will continue to be utilized until Priester can line up replacement buses.

"There's not any sports going on right now, so we're good for about a week here," Ludolph said. "Jerry's working on getting some buses and I think he's going to have some here soon."

Ludolph said Priester's buses were used to cover eight bus routes for Pipestone Area Schools. Those bus drivers are now going to the Ludolph bus garage to begin their routes.

Priester said six buses were on their way Tuesday afternoon from St. Cloud, and they will be leased until he comes up with a permanent solution.

"Nobody was hurt, and really, things can be replaced and buildings can be built," he said.

Priester Bus Service was established by his father, James, in 1951, and Priester has every intention of rebuilding the fleet.

"I plan on rebuilding and I plan on being around here for a while," he said. "Thanks to everyone for their prayers and thoughts. Everybody's trying to help."

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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