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'That's a miracle': Fire and explosion at New Vision Cooperative Elevator, but just one hurt

A firefighter injured after an explosion at the New Vision Cooperative Elevator in Brewster early Tuesday evening was loaded into an awaiting ambulance for transport to Worthington as fellow firefighters gather. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)1 / 5
Nobles County Sheriff's deputies and firemen converse as an injured firefighter is cared for in the ambulance at New Vision Cooperative Elevator Tuesday evening following an explosion. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)2 / 5
A Heron Lake Fire Department rig is parked next to piles of burnt corn Tuesday afternoon at the New Vision Cooperative Elevator in Brewster. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)3 / 5
Firefighters from area communities are shown Tuesday afternoon, more than 30 hours after fire was discovered inside a concrete grain silo at New Vision Cooperative Elevator in Brewster. Crews have been working around the clock to extinguish the fire and remove smoldering grain from the bin. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)4 / 5
Firefighters stand in burnt corn Tuesday morning as they continued to contend with a fire at New Vision Cooperative in Brewster. (Ryan McGaughey/The Globe)5 / 5

BREWSTER — Multiple ambulances responded to an explosion at the New Vision Cooperative Elevator in Brewster shortly after 5:40 p.m. Tuesday.

One firefighter was reportedly injured with back and shoulder pain and transported to Sanford Worthington Medical Center. It could have been much, much worse.

“With all the debris that blew out of there, to have only one person injured — that’s a miracle.” Brewster Fire Department 1st Capt. Lyle Oberloh said Tuesday night.

The explosion took place as firefighters remained on the scene of a fire in one of the grain silos on the New Vision site. The fire was reported at 9:54 a.m. Monday.

Firefighters from Brewster and several other area towns had been on scene around the clock since then, spraying water into the concrete structure and working to remove smoldering corn. Brewster Fire Chief John Garmer said Tuesday afternoon that there was a lot of smoke but no visible flames when they initially responded to the call.

The only way to put out the fire is to unload the estimated 15,000 bushels of corn, Garmer said Tuesday afternoon.

“That’s the painstaking process,” Garmer shared less than three hours before Tuesday evening’s explosion. Working from an open doorway and a hole in the floor, Garmer said crews were sucking the grain out while firefighters sprayed water in to cool it.

As the corn burned, it fused together and created a shelf that was preventing water from penetrating it and keeping the grain from pouring out, Garmer said.

Then came the late afternoon explosion, which Oberloh said took place “virtually right in the doorway” of the bay. The smoldering corn was “hit by a water blast” that pushed it toward grain dust, igniting the blast.

“Basically the elevator’s probably going to have to call a salvage company,” said Oberloh, explaining that the integrity of the silo had been seriously compromised. “We won’t be going up there to extinguish it anymore. We’ll put out the smoldering on the outside of the building, and that should be pretty much it.”  

As of Tuesday afternoon, Garmer said it wasn’t known how the fire started. The bin contained just 20% of its 75,000-bushel capacity.

Brewster Fire Department had received mutual aid from the Worthington, Heron Lake, Okabena and Round Lake fire departments, and Fulda and Wilmont firefighters responded early Tuesday evening. Garmer said in addition to manpower to replace firefighters, neighboring departments were relied upon for additional water.

“It just takes a lot of water,” Garmer said. “Our city water tower can’t support that. We need water tankers.”

Garmer estimated about 10,000 bushels of the burning corn had been removed from the concrete structure as of Tuesday afternoon.