Iowa Firefighters Could Not Save Le Mars Grain Elevator After Fire Broke Out

LE MARS, Iowa -- A grain elevator that contained seed mixing equipment and thousands of pounds of grain could not be saved by firefighters after a fire broke out around 10 p.m. Saturday night.

Firefighters from the volunteer fire departments in Le Mars, Oyens and Merrill arrived at the Le Mars Agri-Center Incorporated, just south of the downtown business district, shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday when flames were spotted coming from the three-story white brick building and an attached metal structure.

Multiple attempts were made late Saturday night into Sunday morning to breach the building and extinguish the flames, Deputy State Fire Marshal David Schipper said, but they had to be halted when the building became unstable after floors and footings started to give in to flames and heat.

"It got to the point we had to stop those efforts," Schipper said. "It wasn't worth someone's life."

An estimated 60 firefighters were at the Le Mars business Sunday morning as another crew, this one from Orange City, arrived with an aerial truck at 5 a.m. to assist those who had been on scene overnight.

Authorities at the scene then made the decision to control the burn and allow the elevator to burn to the ground. Shortly after 6 p.m. on Sunday, the Le Mars Fire Department was the only department still at the elevator and were busy dousing surrounding structures with constant streams of water as flames and grey smoke were still coming from the building. Streets surrounding the business remained closed.

"All of the buildings around the elevator are connected," Schipper said. "We have been able to keep those buildings from being damaged and stop the fire from spreading."

The fire caught the attention of the town of about 9,500 due in part to the proximity of the fire to the downtown area and the large amount of smoke that slowly moved through the area and continued to create a haze around Le Mars Sunday evening.

"I heard every business around here had their fire alarms go off last night," Hank Campbell said.

Campbell was at his business, Campbell Electric, Sunday evening. He and his wife, Kay, heard about the fire last night and opened the doors of their building, which is located directly across for the burning elevator, Sunday around noon.

"We wanted to see if this place was in danger of catching fire, too," Campbell said. "We were told it wasn't, so we just offered a place where everyone could take a break and get out of the sun."

Campbell said many community businesses had been stopping to deliver food and beverages for the firefighters, and the response was so overwhelming a message had to be delivered on a local radio station asking people to stop donating supplies.

Schipper said the fire put a strain on the volunteer fire departments that responded.

"These people gave up their weekends and time to handle this fire," Schipper said. "There are a lot of exhausted people out here."

There is no word on the cause of the fire and there may not be one for at least another week. Schipper said an investigation cannot be conducted until the fire is extinguished, something he said might take a few more days.

"When the floors collapsed, all of that grain was sent down to the ground and is now just smoldering," he said. "It will take a while."

One of the owners of the elevator, Brian Harpenau, declined to comment on the blaze.