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Historic grain elevator burns in Superior, Wis.

SUPERIOR, Wis. -- A fire at a defunct grain elevator in Superior sent large flames and a smoke plume into the air Monday afternoon, Dec. 17

The fire broke out at the former Globe Elevators, adjacent to the operational General Mills elevators, around 3 p.m. as crews were salvaging wood from the structure. Three workers and the building owner who were at the site when the fire started were not injured.

A smaller, rear section of the structure had collapsed by late afternoon, as had one of the large cranes workers had on scene. Just before 10 p.m., Battalion Chief Howard Huber said the fire was “mostly out” and that crews would remain on the scene through the night to keep an eye on hot spots.

“There's a lot of heat underneath it,” Battalion Chief Scott Gordon of the Superior Fire Department said during a press conference earlier Monday evening. Gordon predicted at that time that the fire could smolder for days, and it would take “millions of gallons of water to finally get the fire out to where we can let the owner in to see what we can save.”

Gordon said three contracted workers were removing wood when they apparently cut through a nail or spike, creating a spark that set the structure ablaze. The three workers, as well as the owner of the property, who lives on the opposite side of the complex, were all accounted for.

“They called 911,” Gordon said of the workers.

The elevator is 150 feet tall, and firefighters established a 225-foot collapse zone around the blaze, Gordon said. Nobody, including firefighters, was allowed within the collapse zone.

“We’re trying to get as close to that as we can,” Gordon said of the collapse zone just after the department began spraying the fire with water from two hoses.

“We’re working our way inward,” Gordon said.

Huber estimated damages at $2.5 million dollars on Monday night. Gordon said earlier that only a Bobcat was salvaged, and that wood valued at about $450,000 — and previously sold by the owner — was destroyed.

Firefighters successfully established a direct pump from the nearby harbor, though Gordon expected the fire would take multiple days to fully suppress.

“This is a large wooden structure so it’s going to burn for a while,” Mayor Jim Paine said in a statement on Facebook. “The wood is untreated, old-growth timber, not much different than what you would throw in a fireplace. Superior Fire (Department) is on the scene, there are no injuries, and we don’t expect much damage beyond the structure itself.”

The defunct elevator had been in the process of being dismantled, said Adele Yorde with the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

Kiesow Enterprises of Valders, Wis., had been working to dismantle the remaining structure.

Owner Mark Kiesow declined to comment when reached by phone Monday evening.

The defunct elevators are owned by Gordon Ostedahl. The site featured two storage buildings and a head house. Built in 1887, the Globe Elevators were at one time the largest elevators in the world, according to an online historical record kept by the Old Globe Wood Company and confirmed by the Duluth port authority.

The Globe Elevators featured the first integrated elevator system — able to convey grain between structures.