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80 firefighters battle 24-hour fire at local food production company

By JOE CENTERS and ZOE GRESZLER • Nov 22, 2018 at 10:00 PM

BELLEVUE — It was nearly a 24-hour call to battle a large grain elevator fire that led to a moderate explosion in Bellevue. 

The first call came in at 8:23 a.m. Tuesday for the fire at Bunge North America, a food production company at 605 Goodrich Road. The fire started at the top of the elevator. The calls kept coming and more than 10 agencies were on scene helping to fight the flames.

The last unit didn’t leave the scene until 5:35 a.m. Wednesday, Bellevue Fire Chief Brian Ackerman said. He said it was “definitely” one of the biggest calls his department has handled.  

“We had 75 to 80 firefighters on scene,” he said. 

The facility, previously owned and operated by Central Soya, was the site of a fire that Ackerman considers his department’s “largest” call. “We had a big explosion there in the early 90s that took a lot guys and a lot of time.”

A damage cost estimate has not been assessed yet. Ackerman said he does not expect to have a final number until sometime next week.

The first call came to the Bellevue Fire Department after an employee saw the smoke coming form the elevator portion of the facility, where the soybeans are stored before being processed.

Bellevue firefighters arrived at the scene and called for mutual aid from the Norwalk and Huron River fire departments. The Groton Township fire department covered calls for Bellevue while its firefighters were on scene.

“After the fire departments arrived on scene, an explosion took place just one floor above where Bellevue’s firefighters were,” Ackerman said.

“We had one fireman injured in the explosion,” Ackerman said, adding the injured fireman was taken to a hospital and released later that night. “ He came back to the scene later that day just to show us he was OK. It was nothing severe and he was OK.”

The Bellevue chief said fires at grain elevators are not uncommon.

“Grain elevators are prone to that problem because of the large amount of dust and dust is extremely explosive,” he said. “We’re not entirely sure what the cause of the explosion was.”

Ackerman called it a “moderate” explosion, something that was felt on the ground.

He said the most difficult part of battling the fire was stifling the blaze in a tight space and then making sure all of it was out. Crews thought the fire was out at one point, but were called back about 3 p.m. when more flames were found in the building.

“The biggest problem was the fire was in a confined space in the grain leg. That makes it hard,” he said. “We mixed foam with the water and soaked it into all the areas. BP Huskey Refinery, from Oregon, (Ohio), brought out a bunch of foam. ... They had a specialized truck that carries 1,000 gallons of foam. We used about 625 gallons of foam from them. They were extremely helpful.”

The chief said he couldn’t have done it without the mutual aid from the other departments, including Bellevue Police, the Groton Township, Norwalk and Huron River Joint fire departments, Huron County EMA, North Central EMS, Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office and Erie Count Sheriff’s Office, BP Huskey Refinery, Sandusky County EMS and Life Star from Tiffin.

“Oh my God. They were awesome,” Ackerman said.

“All the department were awesome. No one had any complaints and every department was happy to be there and happy be doing the job. … I was command and the Norwalk Fire Chief (John Soisson) assisted me and helped me to organize the whole thing. The crews were awesome. Everyone was amazing. I’m so thankful thankful fro everyone’s help.”

It was unknown if Bunge’s grain operations were still closed. However, the oil side of the business was running, according to the chief.

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