An early morning explosion shook the ground and had firefighters running for cover as a sawdust silo blew its top at Brainerd Hardwoods today.
"It was a major explosion," said Kevin Stunek, Brainerd Fire Department battalion chief.
Debris rained down at least 100 feet from the silo in small splintered pieces and sections several feet long. No one was injured.
Firefighters from Brainerd and Ironton pumped foam into the silo, containing the fire. With temperatures in the mid 20s, water on the ground near the fire trucks turned to ice. Before 8 a.m., Stunek estimated thousands of gallons of foam had been pumped into the silo, which was two-thirds full of sawdust. A 5,000-gallon tanker truck sat nearby.
The explosion occurred about 6:30 a.m., nearly 15 minutes after firefighters arrived at the scene. The silo is flanked by buildings at Brainerd Hardwoods. A small fire was glowing in an adjacent building at the foot of the silo. The sawdust is used as a heat source for the lumber company northeast of Brainerd off Highway 210, just past the regional airport.
Bruce Paine, Brainerd Hardwoods co-owner, said the silo was burning when he arrived at 6 a.m. Flames could be seen coming out of the silo's top. Paine said it was the first time there was a fire at the business, which employs about 25 people. Using wood shavings for fuel and building heat is common in the industry, Paine said. Considering causes, Paine said it was possible the fire may have started from feedback in the boiler system. Paine said it was too early to tell what the financial damages would be.
Stunek said it is common for silos -- like the one at Brainerd Hardwoods -- to explode once a fire starts. Metal bands, one after the other, circle the silo in an effort to prevent an outward explosion by funneling it upward through the silo's cap. With about 19 firefighters on the scene, Stunek said he was concerned about an explosion early on and issued a warning before the blast.
Firefighters used a ladder truck and cut a hole in the silo's side near the top to feed foam inside. They expected to remain on the scene at least until noon.
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