Producers numb after fire destroys grain elevator

Thirty-two firefighters battled the inferno, preventing other buildings from being engulfed

The skyline of Turtleford, Sask., was quickly changed on a windless night after fire destroyed one of the village’s two remaining wooden grain elevators Nov. 29.

The 144,000 bushel storage was built in 1990 and sold in 2002 to Blair and Sherry McDonald, who farm near Turtleford.

Blair McDonald said red flags went up for him after receiving a phone call at home that steam could be seen coming from the elevator’s roof at about 9 p.m.

“I got about five miles from town and just crested the hill and you could see the orange glow already in town. You could see the smoke coming off the elevator,” he said.

“My heart just sank because that’s not only our hard work from this year but part of last year’s. It’s just a huge loss.”

McDonald said the fire destroyed more than half of this year’s crop of wheat, seed wheat and lentils but also a lot of canola from last year.

His semi tractor and trailer, which was three-quarters full of lentils, was also destroyed.

Fire destroyed a grain elevator in Turtleford, Sask., Nov. 29. There was initially concern that the blaze would spread to other businesses, but firefighters were able to keep it contained. |  Rebecka Bloom photo

Fire destroyed a grain elevator in Turtleford, Sask., Nov. 29. There was initially concern that the blaze would spread to other businesses, but firefighters were able to keep it contained. | Rebecka Bloom photo

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“It was a feeling of numbness. I stayed at the scene all night and didn’t get any sleep, just like the firemen,” he said.

Turtleford firefighters were already on the scene when he arrived.

“Immediately they did the smart thing and went into defensive mode and protected all the houses and businesses close by,” he said.

Volunteer fire crews from nearby St. Walburg and Glaslyn provided backup. Thirty-two members were on site along with RCMP and SaskPower.

Lawrence Weinrauch, Turtleford’s deputy mayor, arrived at about 9:30 and saw the top of the elevator engulfed in flames with fire coming out the sides.

“It’s a shock losing the building, but it’s also a shock because it’s local people and their loss,” said Weinrauch, who manages the local Co-op store located near the elevator.

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“It’s a fairly big icon for the town. Just seeing it and the potential danger if it toppled over is pretty unnerving.”

Weinrauch said fire crews saved the Co-op by hosing it with water throughout the night, which opened for business the next morning.

“They were pretty lucky that way in that it sort of fell in on itself rather than topple,” he said.

Front-end loaders spread the smoldering remains and extinguished flare-ups the following day.

Fire commission inspectors will be looking for a cause this week.

“Everything is a blur right now,” said McDonald, who was back combining a few days later.

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“The number one thing was nobody was hurt. That’s what I’m most thankful for.”