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Massive mounds of potatoes that were stored in the warehouse have been reduced to ash, along with other unspecified equipment and materials. A representative of R.D. Offutt Co. said it is working with insurers to determine a dollar-estimate for the damage and losses. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS

LATEST UPDATE: Warehouse still smoldering after all-night fire fight

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What was yesterday a large potato storage warehouse has been reduced to a smoldering heap of rubble and wreckage after an all-night fire consumed the building and its contents.

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The warehouse, located just northwest of Perham on Otter Tail County Highway 80, is owned by R.D. Offutt Company.

A press release sent out by the company earlier today confirmed the loss of the building along with “potatoes and miscellaneous equipment used in the loadout process.” The company is currently working with its insurers and local authorities to investigate the cause of the fire and determine the full extent of the damage.

The release also confirmed that no employees were hurt in the fire.

Keith McGovern, the company’s CEO, stated, “We are very thankful that no one was injured and would like to thank the emergency responders and volunteers who were involved in fighting and controlling this fire.”

In a press conference this afternoon, Fire Chief Mark Schmidt said about 130 firefighters from 20 fire departments helped to battle the blaze, including all 17 of the Otter Tail County departments and three more from Becker County. That’s the most departments to ever assist with a fire in the Perham Fire District.

Crews worked from about 4:30 p.m. yesterday, when the fire was called in, until about 10 a.m. this morning, when things were contained.

Schmidt said the mutual aid was necessary due to the fire’s size, the building’s location just outside of city limits, and the weather. Assisting fire departments supplied some much-needed water and people-power.

Not including the water used from Perham city wells, Schmidt said 610,000 gallons were used to subdue the flames.

No firefighters were injured, though Schmidt said there were a few falls due to icy conditions.

The weather posed some challenges for the firefighters. According to the National Weather Service, wind chills reached 20 degrees below zero overnight. The cold caused water spray and mist to freeze quickly, and it often iced up the fire trucks and froze doors shut.

Volunteers with the Red Cross arrived in Perham at about 10:15 p.m. to serve snacks and coffee to the firefighters and emergency response workers. Brian Shawn of the Red Cross said they served 100 meals and 300 snacks, as well as at least 5 gallons of coffee.

Schmidt said the Salvation Army was also on the scene, as well as a Bauck school bus, which served as a warming hut for the firefighters.

“That helped a lot,” said Schmidt.

There was some initial concern that the fire could spread, but Schmidt said the wind changed direction at the right time, helping to alleviate that possibility.

An inspector with the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s office was expected to arrive in Perham later today. An investigation into the possible cause of the fire is ongoing.

When contacted for this story, neither a local history museum employee, nor a retired Perham firefighter, could immediately recall a commercial fire of this size, this close to Perham, since 1960, when there was an elevator fire at the McCabe Company (where Viking Feed Service now stands).

By Elizabeth Huwe and Marie Nitke, Perham Focus

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Marie Johnson
Marie Johnson (formerly Nitke) came to the Perham Focus after several years as the Education and Arts & Entertainment Editor at the Herald-Review of Grand Rapids, Minn. She lives in rural Ottertail with her husband, Dan, and their spunky yellow lab, Louisa.
(218) 346-5900 x228
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