Arson is suspected in a late-night fire at a paper recycling plant west of downtown Minneapolis that burned large bales of paper and stacks of wooden pallets.

The blaze at Pioneer Industries was reported shortly after 11 p.m. Saturday at 179 N. Irving Av., said Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Tyner.

Fire crews arrived to find the paper and pallets on fire, he said.

It took about two hours to bring the blaze under control and another five-plus hours before fire crews had the last of the flames doused and felt it was safe to leave the scene, Tyner said. No injuries were reported.

"The crews who responded to the fire on Irving Ave N. last night did an excellent job," he said in a statement. "The amount of fire encountered combined with the fire load present could have easily spread to adjacent structures and led to a much worse outcome had it not been for the quick action and decision-making from the responding crews." 

Mark Elsbernd, an executive with the company, told the Star Tribune that video surveillance images show one of two suspects setting one compressed bale of paper on fire, which then spread to many other bales. He said the bales weigh about 2,000 pounds each.

“It was arson,” he said, saying someone can be seen on the cameras. “It looks like they used a torch on one of the bales.”

Tyner said the cause of the fire was still under investigation.

The buildings on the property and equipment were not damaged, he said, and no employees were there at the time.

“We will have security guards in the future,” Elsbernd said.

Pioneer has been operating in Minneapolis since 1894 and at the Irving Avenue site since the mid-1960s, he said. The Star Tribune is among Pioneer’s many clients.

The company is based in suburban Chicago. Along with Minnesota, it has operations in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.


Staff writers Abby Simons and Sharyn Jackson contributed to this report.