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Published September 01, 2009, 06:08 AM

No one hurt in Jamestown potato plant fire

Parts of the Cavendish Farms potato plant were damaged by a fire Monday afternoon, but no one was injured.

By: Ben Rodgers, Jamestown (N.D.) Sun

JAMESTOWN, N.D. – Parts of the Cavendish Farms potato plant were damaged by a fire Monday afternoon, but no one was injured.

The source of the blaze is unknown, said Jamestown Fire Chief Jim Reuther. The fire likely started in the attic, he said.

Black smoke was reported around 1:30 p.m.

The estimated 100 Cavendish employees had evacuated before firefighters arrived, Reuther said. Many of the employees left the plant by 2:15 p.m.

As a precaution, residents of about 10 homes on the north side of the plant were voluntarily evacuated because the plant uses anhydrous ammonia for refrigeration. Officials feared it might leak.

Jim Michael, director of environmental health at Central Valley Health Services, was at the scene measuring wind velocity in case the ammonia leaked.

“We never had a release that we are aware of,” Reuther said.

Forty firefighters and seven units fought the blaze at the potato-processing plant two miles east of Jamestown until about 6 p.m., he said.

Three crews of two firefighters apiece, as well as some Cavendish employees, planned to monitor the plant overnight. Officials were still reporting flare-ups Monday evening.

The fire was in a void or attic location, making it difficult to access.

Nearly 25 feet of the side of the building – where the green letters “e” and “n” in Cavendish are painted – was removed to allow for more draft, Reuther said.

The department used a Jamestown Street Department boom truck to battle the blaze and remove the side of the building, Reuther said. The department’s ladder truck is in Minnesota for repairs.

Nick Scherbenske of Scherbenske & Son was on scene to excavate if walls needed to be removed quickly, Reuther said. It wasn’t necessary.

Greg Allen, administrative manager at Cavendish Farms, said he would determine what to do about future shifts after consulting with the Fire Department. More information regarding if or when the plant would reopen was not available Monday evening.

The Buffalo Valley chapter of the American Red Cross provided water, snacks and meals for the firefighters, said Beth Dewald, executive director. A stand-by shelter was also set up for the evacuees.

Law enforcement officials blocked roads and rerouted traffic to and from Cavendish, said Jason Falk, Stutsman County sheriff’s deputy.

No damage estimates were available Monday.

Sun staff writer Katie Ryan contributed to this report.

The Jamestown Sun and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.