MARSHALL, MINN. – Southwest Coaches Inc. lost two buses and its business office last week in a major fire that drew nearly every firefighter from across Lyon County.
The 53-year-old family-owned company, which employs 70 people, operates Marshall's school buses and offers motor coach charter tours and other travel services.
"We were blessed. There [were] no injuries and no disruption in service — just a huge outpouring of support from our community," said Thomas Hey, who owns the business with his brother Jim.
Firefighters recovered fireproof safes, files and a computer. Hey said he was optimistic that most of the company's data could be recovered.
About 90 firefighters from Marshall, Ghent, Minneota, Cottonwood, Tracy, Garvin, Balaton, Russell and Lynd responded to the blaze, said Quentin Brunsvold, Marshall fire chief.
One firefighter was treated for a minor injury but returned to work that day. The Southwest Minnesota Chemical Assessment Team contributed equipment to help keep firefighters warm throughout the day.
The fire was reported at 6:51 a.m. Tuesday in a chimney that rises from a furnace fed by waste oil, Brunsvold said. The oil tanks that supply the furnace didn't catch fire. On Saturday, Brunsvold said the fire originated in that chimney in a garage storage area.
The building is quite tall to accommodate the buses, which complicated the fire fight. The roof has a steel outer layer with plywood underneath. Both had to be cut, which made it harder to get inside to find the "seat of the fire," Brunsvold said. He said he immediately ordered firefighters off the roof when it began to sag.
Crews were on the scene for more than 10 hours Tuesday.
"We were all pretty gassed," Brunsvold said. "Then we had a couple of hours putting trucks back in service. It was a good 13-, 14-hour day." Firefighters returned early Wednesday when some hot spots flared up.
Marshall has a paid, on-call fire department.
"All those firemen that were there, every single one of them have a separate job," said Brunsvold, who is parish administrator at a local Catholic church.
He said he is "grateful" to employers for allowing volunteer firefighters to abruptly leave work when a fire is reported and for being "supportive of those people doing that service in the community."