Oil Company Working to Recover After Minot, North Dakota Fire

MINOT, N.D. (AP) -- The chief operating officer of Farstad Oil Inc., says the company is working to restore its business after fire burned an office and warehouse, setting off explosions as it ignited fuel.

Dennis Krueger said late Monday that the company was trying to restore its satellite pricing system and get its trucks back in service.

``We can't get them out of there until everything is clear,'' he said.

No one was hurt in the fire, which began about 9 p.m. Sunday and burned itself out by early Monday afternoon.

More than 75,000 square feet of buildings occupy the site, Krueger said, and Farstad employs nearly 65 people there. It serves North Dakota, parts of South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Minnesota as a wholesale distributor, he said.

The cause of the fire was being investigated.

``I haven't heard anything official yet,'' Krueger said. ``It's really sad, one day it's here and the next day it's gone. We're all in shock.''

The scene was eerily reminiscent of a deadly train derailment three years ago on the west edge of this city.

Thom Mellum, the emergency manager for Ward County, said he saw at the fire many of the same faces who were on the scene during the Jan. 18, 2002 Canadian Pacific Railway wreck.

``There were some references made to 'January's not always the best time,''' he said.

``We were kind of pleased that we had a lot of our public notification systems fixed and we were able to get the information out quickly,'' he said.

Minot Fire Department spokesman Dean Lenertz said a few ``major'' explosions sent fireballs into the air early Monday morning.

``Once they had the first explosion, everybody backed away,'' he said. ``At that point, there was no sense in getting anybody hurt.''

Earthmovers Inc., a hazardous material company, came in to smother the area with sand.

Dave Glatt, the state's environmental health chief, said two Health Department officials were on the scene Monday to monitor the situation. He said there were no immediate health threats.

Firefighters from Minot and surrounding areas had spent the night battling the blaze in temperatures that dropped to more than 25 degrees below zero. The American Red Cross provided food and beverages to firefighters who used the nearby All Season's Arena as a staging and warm-up center, spokeswoman Kim Weber said.

It brought back memories from January 2002, when the Canadian Pacific train carrying anhydrous ammonia derailed on the edge of Minot, sending a cloud of deadly gas over the city. In that incident, one person died and hundreds were injured. It also led authorities to make changes to improve their notification system in disasters.

This time, officials were pleased that the outcome was different.

``Here, we knew that we had a fire, and you can deal with a fire because it's contained in one area,'' Lenertz said. His own position as public information officer was one of the changes after the derailment.

``One of the things we felt we needed was more coordination,'' he said. ``We've trained pretty heavily on it, especially after the anhydrous spill.''

Glatt said the main environmental worry is that runoff from the fire will seep into groundwater.

``My understanding is there were various types of petroleum products, antifreeze,'' he said. ``Maybe a lot of it was consumed in the fire. We'll have to find that out when we do our assessments.''

Glatt said the frozen ground also might prevent any contamination to groundwater. He said there was no worry that runoff would make it to the Souris River, which runs through the city. Firefighters said they used sand to minimize the runoff.

The derailment three years ago has led to a lawsuit against Canadian Pacific Railway. Fargo attorney Mike Miller, whose firm represents about 900 people in the lawsuit, said Monday that he was still awaiting a decision from U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland on a request to certify the suit for class-action status.

If Hovland grants the request, it could bring up to 20,000 Minot residents into the lawsuit, according to Miller.

Glatt said the lessons local emergency officials learned from the derailment helped them on Monday.

``Minot is well-versed on these things _ they know how to handle their emergencies,'' he said. ``I think they've done a good job on this.''