Fire smolders at potato warehouse in Perham

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 22, 2014 - 9:24 PM

The blaze began Tuesday afternoon at site operated by Fargo-based producer, the nation’s largest.

The charred remains of a potato warehouse in western Minnesota were being watched carefully Wednesday, as piles of potatoes smoldered in windy conditions, authorities said.

The blaze broke out at the R.D. Offutt Co. warehouse on the western edge of Perham about 4:20 p.m. Tuesday, with crews from 20 fire departments responding, said Perham Fire Chief Mark Schmidt.

No injuries have been reported, and authorities have yet to pinpoint what led to the fire in the 200- by 300-foot building on Hwy. 80.

Schmidt said that the wood structure, wrapped in tin, was a total loss. “There are no walls now,” he said. “They are all gone.”

The chief said his immediate concern at midday Wednesday was that the “wind is just howling, and we do have some flare-ups, but they are being contained.”

Amid what little is left of the building, “we still have some things burning inside, the potato piles,” Schmidt added. “Our concern now is what to do with all the potatoes.”

There have been no neighborhoods evacuated, the chief said, attributing that good fortune to “the big guy upstairs who got us the right wind direction.”

Roads leading to the warehouse were blocked off Tuesday to accommodate emergency responders. Train traffic along the nearby BNSF line also was disrupted for a short time.

The American Red Cross provided water and food to the more than 100 of the responders, many of whom had to deal with water freezing into ice beneath their feet.

“There were no slips or falls,” Chief Schmidt said. “We were very lucky.”

Fargo-based R.D. Offutt, the nation’s largest potato producer, counts McDonald’s among its major customers.

The company said that along with the warehouse and some of its inventory, it also lost various types of loading equipment in the fire.

“We are very thankful that no one was injured and would like to thank the emergency responders and volunteers who were involved in fighting and controlling this fire,” CEO Keith McGovern said in a statement.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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