By ROBERT S. MERRILL
A malfunction in a conveyor-belt system was listed as the apparent cause of a fire Wednesday afternoon that destroyed a grain mill at Valley Wide Co-op (Franklin County Grain Growers) 264 So. State, causing up to $5 million in damage.
Fire District Fire Marshal Scott Martin said the fire spread quickly and was already pushing through the roof of the main elevator when the first crews arrived a 3:55 p.m. The call came in a 3:49 p.m.
He told The Citizen Friday morning the official cause of the fire is still under investigation, but added it was definitely associated with the conveyor belt. He said estimated damage is between $4-5 million. The structure was insured. There were no injuries.
A farm store, propane, and heating/farm fuel operations, adjacent to the elevator, opened for business as usual Thursday morning and were unaffected by the fire. Several other warehouse and outbuildings were not involved.
Preston area manager Steve Hinckley said Valley Wide wants to reassure its customers that the feed mill and agronomy portions of the business are still in operation and able to serve any of their needs.
“For the immediate time, Valley Wide will be handling all feed mill-customer business out of the farm store. This unfortunate event has not and will not change the ability of Valley Wide to be fully operational and provide good customer service,” he said.
Hinckley said any questions about feed supplies should be directed to Ryan Hull at 852-0384. Hinckley or company-wide CEO Dave Holtom can be contacted for general questions.
Fire crews stayed on the scene until 11 59 p.m. Wednesday mopping up and watching for hotspots in the granary tower and adjacent grain storage bins.
“We had a rekindle at 4 a.m. Thursday and had a fire crew on stand-by, which extinguished the second blaze. A fire truck was called to the burnt-out structure at approximately 3:40 p.m. Thursday afternoon to douse a hot spot,” said Martin.
A roller room, part of the grain mill, was also destroyed.
Some 22 firefighters from the Franklin County Fire District were assisted by 33 from North Logan, Logan, Lewiston, Trenton, Richmond and Smithfield. Aerial ladder trucks and additional equipment from these agencies were also used in fighting the fire.
The Fire District has a mutual-aid agreement with Cache County for assistance with major blazes.
Employees of the facility quickly evacuated the premises after the fire started on Wednesday. Fuel and fertilizer trucks and other equipment were moved from the scene. Traffic was diverted to side-streets and a crowd gathered in the parking lot of Stokes Marketplace to watch.
By 4 p.m. school busses with stops within three blocks of the fire returned to the school. Parents were notified to pick up students there.
Rocky Mountain Power officials cut power to the entire west side of State Street for two-to-three hours.
Stokes’ parking lot was cleared at approximately 4:30 p.m. Nearby businesses and homes were evacuated because officials were fearful of a grain-dust explosion.
At the same time the roof of the structure was crashing inward.
Besides the grain mill, a large amount of fertilizer, oil, and other product is stored at the facility.
Holtom and other company executives from Rupert were in Preston on Thursday to assess the damage and talk with insurance representatives.
Franklin County Grain Growers Co-op, an 81-year-old institution in southeastern Idaho, officially became Valley Wide Co op on Jan. 1 after a merger.
Valley Wide is headquartered in Rupert and is a farm supply dealer with several retail and other outlets in southern Idaho and Oregon.
FCGG served the needs of farmers and residents of Franklin County since
1930. The local company supplied propane, farm fuel, heating oil, coal, operated a feed mill and a retail, hardware, lumber, gasoline, and convenience store that opened in 2008.
Valley Wide began in 1998 with the merger of two small entities in Eastern Idaho — Menan and Madison Co-ops. It currently has $185 million in sales.
Valley Wide has three main divisions: agronomy, the engine of the company; retail and farm supply stores; and energy, the delivery of refined fuel and propane.
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