Mo. firefighters wrestle with stubborn grain elevator fire

By Ray Scherer
The St. Joseph News-Press

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — St. Joseph firefighters spent nearly four hours Sunday afternoon wrestling with a stubborn grain elevator fire at the Lifeline Foods plant.

Crews were dispatched to the South 11th Street plant just before 1 p.m., said Battalion Chief Russell Moore.

The fire began in tubing that contains some of the company's older food materials.

"It'd overheated and caught fire on the inside," Mr. Moore said.

An audible plant alarm could be heard from within the complex as firefighters began battling the blaze.

Firefighters hooked onto Lifeline's standpipe to access water, charging it at a six-floor height. A quantity of charred grain came out a bottom chute and filled a 20-foot-wide by-12-foot deep area. The chute empties into a basement. An estimated 10 to 20 feet of water was splashed on top of the grain pile.

"The stuff that was burning down below, flames were actually visible," Mr. Moore said.

Crews from six companies remained at the plant until nearly 5 p.m. to ensure the fire was extinguished with a combination of water and ventilation.

"Grain will heat up" and reignite a fire, Mr. Moore said.

Hoses were brought inside the elevator from below to fight the flames.

The possibility of an explosion preyed on firefighters' minds, Mr. Moore admitted.

"That was one of our concerns," he responded.

Another worry was a potential release of water and grain that could have rained on firefighters working down below. Water was also sprayed onto a second grain elevator that had become overheated.

Lifeline employees assisted in guiding fire crews to the problem.

The plant has been the scene of other fires over the past six years, according to News-Press files. Mr. Moore said some of those fires had involved dryers.

Hot temperatures and the plant's confined conditions forced firefighters to rotate their attack. A Rapid Intervention Team was established for that purpose — with firefighters substituting for each other as oxygen bottles were used. Refreshments and misting fans were also set up to help with rehabilitating the crews.

A St. Joseph fire inspector was not summoned to investigate the scene.

Copyright 2009 St. Joseph News-Press

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