‘We’re very, very fortunate’

'We're very, very fortunate' Members of the Vermillion Fire Department donned breathing equipment and safety gear as they prepared to evacuate smoke from the pit of the east elevator of Vermillion Fertilizer and Grain. by David Lias "We're very, very fortunate."

You wouldn't expect those words from a man whose family-owned business just suffered a small fire.

But Kevin Myron of Vermillion Fertilizer and Grain said Wednesday that alert action by an employee and the quick, professional response of the Vermillion Fire Department helped limit damage to the company's east elevator located in lower Vermillion.

An employee discovered smoke when he opened the elevator's door Monday morning. He immediately alerted Myron, and the fire department was called.

Both Myron and the employee tried to find the origin of the smoke. "I saw a flicker of flame, which we put out with an extinguisher," Myron said.

The fire apparently began in the pit area of the structure. The pit is about 10 feet wide, 25 feet long, and descends about 25 feet into the ground.

"It's a small, confined area, and it only has two access doors to

it," he said.

That posed a challenge to the firemen who worked to insure that every spark in the building was extinguished before they left.

"I had gotten the flame out, but there still were embers glowing on the wall and a tremendous amount of heat," Myron said. "It was a small, confined area for them (fire fighters) to access and work in. With the potential for what could happen there, I think they did an extremely good job of balancing action and caution in getting things done."

The fire caused between $2,000 and $3,000 in damage to the wooden structure. What sparked the blaze remains a mystery to Myron and his crew. "We still haven't found a cause. We still haven't been able to find anything that might have initiated the fire," he said Wednesday. "We're still kind of at a loss. We were just down there today, tearing out some of the damaged wood and rebuilding some chutes."

Workers had cleaned out the pit last week, making the process of determining a cause even more baffling.

"In a grain elevator, the types of things that maybe would start a fire would be equipment- or machinery-related like bearings, or electrical equipment or hot or poor quality grain," Myron said.

None of those elements were present in the empty pit.

Vermillion Fertilizer and Grain also safeguards against fire by making sure electrical wires are fully insulated, and by using only explosion-proof motors and other equipment.

"You have to be very cautious to prevent any kind of a spark," Myron said. "But obviously a spark was generated somehow. We're not really sure where this would have started. It appears it started on an incline on the side of the wall inside the pit, but there's not really any equipment there."

Myron is thankful that Monday's fire was discovered early, and that the fire department responded so quickly.

"The actual damage was very small, and it downplays how quickly the situation could have been different," he said. "From the time we called it in to the time they (the fire fighters) got here, they had a tremendous response time."

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