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Fire destroys bean company offices

Fire destroyed the offices of the Kelley Bean Company late Friday night, May 1.

Four fire departments worked to extinguish the blaze in the Perham Industrial Park, with some firefighters at the scene until 4:30 a.m. on Saturday.

As far as operations at the bean company, "everything's going to be OK," said Bob Kelley, president of the Scott's Bluff, Nebraska-based company.

"We're fully insured, the office is up and running, we're getting seed to the growers, and we'll be back in business processing beans in a couple weeks," said Kelley. "It could have been a lot worse."

The Perham Volunteer Fire Department received the call at about 11 p.m. Soon afterwards, they received back-up from the Dent, New York Mills and Vergas fire departments.

It was a Perham police officer on patrol in the city who first noticed a large cloud of smoke and smelled something burning in the industrial area. After discovering flames flickering out of the windows at Kelley Bean Company, dispatch was contacted to page out the fire crew.

The large, 125 by 200 foot structure was mostly undamaged, from a structural standpoint. But the 30 by 60 foot office area, located within the larger structure, was a total loss, according to Perham Fire Chief Mark Schmidt.

"The fire was contained to inner offices, which made it difficult," said Schmidt, adding that firefighters were forced to cut the roof open above the offices in order to ventilate the building. "We had the ladder truck up there, and we pulled the tin off."

It was one of the most intense fires at a commercial building that the Perham firefighters had encountered for quite some time, said Schmidt.

Because the fire was isolated within the larger building, "we went through a lot of air tanks," said Schmidt. "We also needed the manpower, due to the heat, the smoke and the size of the building."

The fire is believed to have started in the furnace-mechanical room in the office section of the building.

The various bean sorting equipment was saved, along with almost everything in the warehouse and storage space. However, smoke filled the entire building.

In question was the status of the tens of thousands of pounds of beans. Insurance company officials were scheduled to inspect the site on Monday. At press time, there were no dollar estimates as to the losses.

Area growers, who purchase seed from Kelley, are assured that there is plenty of stock, said Kelley. Most of the seed inventory was stored in a warehouse across the street.

"Seed is intact and ready for growers to pick up," said Kelley.

There was bean inventory within the structure that sustained smoke damage, said Kelley, which will probably be processed for cattle feed.

The Perham operation employs five. In addition to selling seed to growers, Kelley packages edible beans into 50 and 100 pound bags; as well as large, one-ton tote bags, which are shipped to canners.

Kelley Bean is a company with locations in a dozen states. The company, with its origins dating to 1927, has grown to become one of the largest originators and marketers of dry edible beans in the world.

It has been a busy stretch of days for the Perham Fire Department.

Firefighters were called into action again Sunday night, May 3, at a rollover call on Highway 78 and County 54, assisting the Ottertail fire and rescue teams.

Then, early Monday morning at about 2 a.m., a fire alarm came in from Perham Memorial Hospital and Home. Fortunately, it was a false alarm--triggered by the water pressure loss when the city was flushing hydrants, according to Chief Schmidt.

Tuesday morning, about 4:50 a.m., a call came in from the Crossings Inn hotel. The alarm in the kitchen area was set off because a waffle making machine evidently overheated, said Chief Schmidt. There were no damages.