Update: Fire destroys North Hudson warehouseOne of the largest fires in the history of Hudson destroyed a 50,000-square-foot warehouse owned by St. Croix Storage and Transfer Co. in North Hudson last Thursday night and Friday.
By: Doug Stohlberg, Hudson Star-Observer
One of the largest fires in the history of Hudson destroyed a 50,000-square-foot warehouse owned by St. Croix Storage and Transfer Co. in North Hudson last Thursday night and Friday.
Hudson Fire Chief Jim Frye said losses will exceed a million dollars, and the structure is considered a total loss.
Fighting the fire required firefighters from at least 43 departments in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Frye estimated that more than 200 firefighters battled the blaze over the course of nearly 20 hours.
“We may never know the cause of the fire,” said Frye. “We had to destroy so much of the building in order to get at the fire.”
Investigators are working at the scene, but if the cause can be determined, it will probably take some time.
Frye estimated that 1.5 to 2 million gallons of water were used to fight the blaze.
“Stillwater reported that their ladder truck flowed approximately 450,000 gallons of water,” Frye said. The Stillwater truck was one of four ladder trucks used in the blaze. Others were from Bayport, River Falls and United (Baldwin-Hammond).
“As luck would have it, Hudson’s ladder truck was not available due to required annual maintenance being performed,” Frye said.
St. Croix Storage is located in the old historic North Hudson car shop yards, 239 Monroe St. N.
Dan Barber is the owner of St. Croix Storage and Transfer, and many locals are familiar with John Schommer, who owned the business for about 30 years before selling to Barber in 2007. The buildings themselves are owned by St. Croix Ventures. The total complex includes about 130,000 square feet of space.
A resident living several blocks south of the business contacted the emergency dispatch center late Thursday evening to report a burning odor and smoke in the area.
The North Hudson Police Department responded and found heavy smoke in the area and snow rapidly melting off the building’s roof. The fire department was alerted at 10:59 p.m.
“Fire crews making the initial attack encountered heavy smoke conditions in the north end of the facility but were unable to detect any flames,” Frye said. “Crews reported hearing items collapsing in the southern end of the facility. Firefighters then began opening exterior walls in an attempt to locate the fire.
“At approximately 20-30 minutes into the fight, Hudson command officers called for all personnel to evacuate the structure and went into defensive mode in an attempt to stop the blaze.
“The four ladder trucks were placed around the structure to support ground crews. Fire crews worked the east, west and north sides of the building in an effort to slow and contain the blaze.”
The building contained flat cardboard on stacked pallets. Other items included rolls of plastic shrink wrap, assembly-required wooden furniture and a small amount of plastic parts used in window manufacturing. Several tractor trucks and forklifts were also parked inside the structure and were destroyed in the fire.
“The large amount of combustible items, along with the size of the building, made fire suppression difficult.” Frye said.
Another item that concerned fire officials was 80,000 pounds of titanium dioxide. The material is considered “slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), eye contact (irritant), and ingestion, or inhalation.” Frye said that once it was determined the product was non-flammable, the biggest concern was run-off into the storm sewers. “The product dilutes in water and it is believed that a minimal amount, if any, made it into the storm sewer system,” Frye said.
As soon as the Hudson Fire command officers saw the situation, they began calling for mutual aid and additional resources. The closest mutual aid departments, River Falls, Roberts, Lower St. Croix Valley and St. Joseph, were contacted immediately. Ladder trucks from Bayport and Stillwater were also requested.
As the night went on, however, mutual aid requests went deeper into St. Croix and Washington counties. At around 3 a.m. on Friday, records indicated there were 28 fire departments on scene, 11 from Wisconsin and 17 from Minnesota.
“On Friday morning it was obvious that work at the scene would continue into Friday night,” said Frye, and those fighting the blaze were now battling fatigue and cold.
He made contact with St. Croix Emergency Management Director Jack Colvard and Wisconsin Emergency Management. A request was made for a response from any agencies that would be willing to assist.
Besides a number of firefighters and trucks from the entire region, a command vehicle from Dunn County and a command team from the Eau Claire/Chippewa Falls area responded and relieved Hudson firefighters by taking command of the incident on Friday afternoon.
“Of course, it is a big challenge to manage firefighters from many different agencies,” Frye said. “We used the county emergency communications van, and once we got people together, it went pretty smoothly. There is planning in place for these situations and it went pretty well.”
Sub-zero temperatures made conditions for the firefighters very difficult. Temperatures dipped below zero after midnight and at 5 a.m. hovered at -5.
“Several trailers or other pieces of apparatus were brought in for use as warming stations for firefighters, and dry gloves became a scarce commodity,” Frye said.
On Friday morning, the Northpoint restaurant opened, allowing firefighters a warm haven close to the blaze. Many area businesses provided food, hot drinks and other items, which helped keep the crews going. The St. Croix Valley chapter of the American Red Cross also assisted.
Frye, whose day job is with the city of Hudson Water Department, knew early Friday that the water supply in North Hudson was reaching a critical level.
“We shut down all hydrants in the area,” Frye said. “Water then was shuttled by tankers from the city of Hudson to supply fire streams.”
Tankers were filled at several locations in Hudson, including the Hudson fire station and the hydrants on Walnut, Locust and Seventh streets. Frye said about 20 tankers were shuttling water back and forth from Hudson to the fire’s location.
On Friday morning, often five to 10 trucks could be seen along Third Street waiting to reload with water. North Hudson’s towers were refilled to an acceptable level, and later Friday morning, the use of hydrants in the fire area resumed.
Early in the incident a backhoe from F&K Excavating was requested to assist firefighters by removing exterior walls of the structure and moving items so the fire could be better extinguished. A fuel truck from Yocum Oil was also requested several times to supply firetrucks with fuel on the scene.
Hudson’s St. Croix EMS provided coordination of medical services and support to responders. They were assisted by EMS services from Prescott, River Falls, New Richmond, Baldwin and Ellsworth.
Hudson firefighters officially cleared the scene at 5:15 p.m. Friday, but cleanup continued into the night, and firefighters revisited the scene several times over the weekend to control hot spots that continued to smolder.