Fire Destroys Historic Grain Elevator in Superior

Updated: December 18, 2018 08:58 AM

Fire ripped through a historic grain elevator near the Blatnik Bridge in Superior Monday afternoon, sending flames shooting more than 150 feet into the air and creating a plume of smoke that could be seen miles away.


The fire was reported to be "mostly out" just before 10 p.m. Crews remained on scene overnight to put out any "hot spots." Total damage is estimated at $2.5 million. 

The blaze at the old Globe Elevator was reported around 3 p.m.  Battalion Chief Scott Gordon says three workers were in the building removing wood the when a spark ignited a fire and the workers called 911.

There were no reports of any injuries.

With the nearest fire hydrant a half-mile away and a fire so warm that crews 500 feet away had to pull back, the department made the decision to let the fire burn until the front wooden structure of the building collapsed.  Fire crews were eventually able to cut holes in the ice of St. Louis Bay to pull water to fight the fire.

Gordon estimates it will take millions of gallons of water and a couple of days to put out the fire.

Gordon said crews hoped to save two cranes being used at the site but were unable to do so.  He also said $450,000 worth of wood that had already been sold was destroyed.

"That's an unfortunate thing for us. I myself have seen this wood. It's beautiful. It's pristine stuff," Gordon said. "But we're not going to put firefighters in harm's way to put them in a collapse zone to save that wood."

People around the Twin Ports stopped to watch the massive fire burn.  Some bystanders watching the blaze said it reminded them of the Husky Refinery fire in Superior earlier this year.

"I could see this big plume of smoke coming up. And I knew right away something was up," Don Lepper of Duluth said. "The last thing I saw any remotely close to this would be the Husky fire."

Gordon said the department used what it learned from the Husky fire in their response Monday, including notifying agencies like the U.S. Coast Guard and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the latter of which manages the nearby Blatnik Bridge.  The bridge ultimately remained open.

"This scene is in Superior. It's in Duluth. It's in the bay, which is the Coast Guard. It's on the bridge, which is WisDOT," Gordon said. "We have made those communications better, crisper, faster because of that Husky incident."

Gordon said the department also sent an engine to a nearby General Mills elevator after reports that the concrete there was getting warm from the Globe fire.

Mayor Jim Paine said he learned of the fire by seeing it from city hall.  He said the public is not in danger.

"It's always stressful. This is a dramatic day," Paine said. "But thankfully, I'm feeling, once again, pretty proud of our fire department. I know Battalion Chief Gordon has given some conservative estimates about how long it's going to take to fight this fire. But they're doing a fantastic job."

Gordon said it could take days to put it completely out because of the smoldering wood trapped underneath the rubble. 

The structure was said to be the biggest grain elevator in the world when it was built in the late 1880s.  It was decommissioned decades ago and crews have been working for years to salvage wood, which is turned into high-end furniture and other items.

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