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Fire crews battle a blaze Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, at an R.D. Offutt Co. potato warehouse near Perham, Minn. (Elizabeth Huwe/Forum News Service)

Fire burns potato warehouse near Perham

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Fire crews battled a large blaze Tuesday night at an R.D. Offutt Co. potato warehouse near Perham.

A Perham police officer on the scene said the fire was called in at about 4:20 p.m. Witnesses said the fire originated in the south part of the building and spread north.

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At least two semi trucks were seen inside the building, engulfed in flames. An unknown amount of potatoes and other contents were also inside.

As of 10 p.m., at least 13 area fire departments were still assisting at the scene.

“It’s going to be a long night,” said Frazee firefighter Tyler King.

King said crews ran into some issues with fire hydrants freezing up earlier in the evening, but city workers quickly solved the problem. A broken water main in the area also added to the night’s challenges, but did not have much of an effect on water pressure at other hydrants.

Lake Region Electric Cooperative crews were also present after the fire broke out. A Lake Region representative said they shut off power to the warehouse and cut away all electric cables connected to it.

After part of the south-facing exterior wall collapsed at about 6:15 p.m., heavy equipment was used to pull down the remaining side of the structure and remove debris.

The building is just west of Perham, on Otter Tail County Highway 80.

According to a news release from the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office, an R.D. Offutt employee reported the fire after noticing smoke coming from the warehouse.

A Perham police officer at the scene said he did not believe anyone had been injured in the fire, but he could not immediately confirm that.

Perham EMS and a school bus were on the scene to provide support and a warming area for firefighters and law enforcement officers.

Volunteers with the American Red Cross also were setting up at the Perham Fire Hall to provide food, water, coffee and hot chocolate for the roughly 120 responders.

Roads around warehouse the area had been blocked off during the initial emergency response, but traffic controllers began letting vehicles through later in the evening.

After the burning material was pushed back from the railroad, train traffic was allowed to resume through the area as well.

The cause of the fire was still unknown Tuesday night.

Ron Offutt is the founder and chairman of R.D. Offutt Co., the nation’s largest potato producer. The company’s corporate headquarters is in Fargo, N.D.

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