Year in review: MnSP fire leads to evacuation in Brewster
BREWSTER -- There were no injuries, no lives lost and no mass explosions, but when a fire broke out at Minnesota Soybean Processors on May 23, more than 20 fire departments from across southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa responded to the scene with manpower, tanker trucks, aerials and turn-out gear.
The call came into the Nobles County Sheriff's Office shortly before 10 p.m. on the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend. Flames had been seen coming from an area of the plant, and the fire's proximity to the biodiesel storage tank forced the evacuation of the entire city of Brewster and a one-mile perimeter of the soybean processing facility. Minnesota 60 was closed from Worthington north to near Heron Lake, and rail travel was also stopped.
In a press release later issued by MnSP's general manager Richard Galloway, employees discovered smoke in a soybean oil and biodiesel loading area on the property.
"The fire was limited to an area involved exclusively with the storage of and loading out of finished soybean oil and soy biodiesel. No explosion occurred and no injuries resulted," Galloway said. "The involved area was well away from production facilities and well away from the grain elevator portion of the facility. Damage was limited to soybean oil and biodiesel load-out equipment, to the insulation on a biodiesel storage tank and to a soybean oil storage tank."
Two hours after the initial fire call was sounded, Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening said the fire was "pretty well contained."
Among the fire departments responding to the scene were Brewster, Round Lake, Okabena, Lakefield, Heron Lake, Rushmore, Worthington, Jackson, Windom, Luverne and Arnold's Park, Iowa. Law enforcement from Nobles, Murray, Jackson and Cottonwood counties also assisted with traffic control, and were aided by the Minnesota State Patrol. Worthington Ambulance and area rescue vehicles were also called in on standby.
An emergency shelter was set up at the American Reformed Church in Worthington for those who evacuated and had nowhere to go. In all, the Southwest Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross tended to 18 evacuees at the emergency shelter. Residents were given the all clear at 12:55 a.m. to return home.
Following an investigation by the Minnesota State Fire Marshal, a cause of the fire was never determined.
Less than two weeks after the fire at MnSP, members of the Nobles County Emergency Management Planning Advisory Committee met to discuss the response to the fire.
"I don't see anything that really could have been done differently," said Wilkening. "It was well organized -- it was well run. (The Brewster Fire) department did a good job of getting things where they needed to go.
"It just all fell into place, and I think that comes from training," he added.
John Garmer, Brewster Fire Chief, was also positive.
"It's probably the biggest thing we've ever seen in Brewster," Garmer said. "The amount of people it took to make everything happen that night, it was amazing. As smooth as it went, it was like we've been training for it for years."
"I think one of the big things was the quick recognition from people who really listened to our request that this was really serious," added Dave McNab, Brewster's assistant fire chief and Worthington Ambulance coordinator. "We knew from the minute we were around the first curve that this was way out of our realm. Our whole goal was to maintain it. It's certainly not easy to make that many major decisions that are going to affect that many people ... Highway 60, the town."
Nobles County Emergency Management Director Dan Anderson commended the Brewster Fire Department for the response.
"I think you guys understand the responsibility that comes with having that bean plant in your back yard," Anderson said. "(Fires at this plant) have the potential to be catastrophic."