Firefighters knock down fire at Dakota Mill and Grain
February 17, 2017
BELLE FOURCHE — An overheated conveyer belt was the source of a fire that later ignited grain dust at the Dakota Mill and Grain elevator in Belle Fourche Wednesday morning that shut down a large portion of the town's highway thoroughfare for much of the day.
Ryan Reeves, the Belle Fourche Volunteer Fire Department's fire chief, said the fire call came in around 11 a.m. and shortly after, the surround buildings were evacuated and utility services disconnected.
"We ended up pulling out as much of the (overheated) belt as we could from the shafts," he said.
The wind, Reeves said, was a major contributing factor — fanning the flames.
““It was a very well-coordinated effort on all parts. Things went about as well as they could have went. We were being extremely cautious considering the flammability of the grain dust.” Ryan Reeves, Belle Fourche Volunteer Fire Department’s fire chief
"The way the wind was going up and coming down — pushing more air down into the grain and getting it smoldering back up again," Reeves said.
BFVFD received mutual aid assistance from the Spearfish Fire Department, the Belle Fourche Police Department, the Butte County Sheriff's Office, the South Dakota Highway Patrol, the South Dakota Department of Transportation, and the Belle Fourche Ambulance Service, and the city of Belle Fourche throughout the dangerous incident.
"It was a very well coordinated effort on all parts," he said. "Things went about as well as they could have went. We were being extremely cautious considering the flammability of the grain dust."
Reeves said grain dust is highly combustible and can burn or explode if enough becomes airborne or accumulates on a surface and finds an ignition source — such as overheated belt. He said that fires caused by grain dusts explosion can be especially difficult to extinguish. For those reasons, he said the group took its time to ensure the fire was both cautiously and properly managed to avoid a potentially deadly outcome.
Following the containment of the fire around 4 p.m., Highway 85 was reopened. Reeves said the mill's staff planned to keep an eye on the elevator overnight to ensure no more embers or fires were started.
Although the amount of damage is still undetermined, Reeves said there were no injuries.
–Reprinted with permission of the Black Hills Pioneer