Blaze at Wisconsin Co-Op Does $500,000 in Damage

September 16, 2011

An early-morning fire at a farmers’ cooperative union prompted a brief village evacuation over concerns that the fire could reach chemicals in the burning plant, Sheboygan County authorities said Wednesday.

The fire was reported at Adell Cooperative Union in Adell about 3:15 a.m. Wednesday, and several explosions were reported after the initial call, sheriff’s Capt. Dave Adams said.

Air-quality readings during and after the blaze suggested that no chemical vapors were released by the fire, authorities said.

The plant was unstaffed at the time of the fire. The only reported injury was a firefighter who hurt an ankle, Adams said.

An evacuation order was issued for all residents within a 1-mile radius, according to a news release issued at 5 a.m. Adell Fire Chief Will Schneiderwent said authorities were concerned because of chemicals inside the plant.

Residents of the village, which has a population of about 500, were directed to Random Lake High School. Dozens of residents went to the school and remained until the evacuation order was lifted about 6:45 a.m.

Sheriff’s Lt. Jim Risseeuw said the investigation was ongoing Wednesday but there was no reason to believe the fire was intentionally set.

The fire caused more than $500,000 in damage and destroyed one-third of the sprawling cooperative, Adell Co-op general manager Jerry Leick told The Sheboygan Press. The blaze destroyed seed and chemical warehouses and damaged a facility where liquid fertilizer is loaded.

Leick said the explosion sounds came from a pair of 120-gallon propane tanks. The tanks didn’t explode but, as designed, released propane vapor through a valve, causing a giant flame and loud noise, he said.

“It could, potentially (explode) if they don’t release pressure,” Leick said. “It was very loud and very scary if you’re standing down there fighting the fire.”

The co-op has a feed mill and sells fertilizers and insecticides to farmers, Adams said.

About 50 cars went to a local mini-mart right after the explosions until officials sent them further away from the scene. Laura Garcia, who works at the mini-mart, said she was sad for the community’s loss.

“I’m sad for the co-op, because it was a big part of Adell,” said Garcia, 41. “I’m sad for what they lost, to lose all that so fast. There’s a lot of people employed there from here and the surrounding communities. It’s pretty sad.”

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