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Blaze at Clay County Highway Department building in Barnesville tallies about $3 million in losses

Firefighters battle a blaze Tuesday at the Clay County Highway Department in Barnesville. Wendy Reuer / The Forum

BARNESVILLE, Minn. - A fire that destroyed the Clay County Highway Department building here Tuesday afternoon caused at least $3 million in damage.

Assistant Clay County Engineer Nathan Gannon said two road graders worth about $200,000 each were lost, including one that was purchased last week.

Three plow trucks and a payloader were also destroyed inside the 50-foot-by-100-foot building. The building and all its contents were considered a total loss.

Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said the building and equipment is insured by the county.

The fire came just days before snowstorms are expected to deliver strong winds and heavy snow to the area.

Gannon said officials were already working to rent backup equipment in anticipation of the first system expected to hit early Thursday morning.

Clay County Commissioner Jon Evert said the county should be able to act fast in replacing the equipment and ensure that roads stay safe with the approaching storms.

"The biggest thing will probably be getting a place to store the equipment," Evert said.

Evert said county highway employees who work out of the shop would not see lost work time.

Bergquist said members of the Barnesville volunteer fire department first saw the blaze while working at a nearby grain elevator and headed to the fire station minutes before the fire was reported about 3:30 p.m.

Firefighters from Barnesville and Sabin decided to let the fire burn out when they realized the building couldn't be saved.

A propane tank was inside, and the sound of tires exploding from the heat could be heard outside the burning building.

"It's just way too dangerous for anyone to go in there now," Bergquist said at the time.

Bergquist said the fire's cause was unclear. A fire marshal was expected to be on scene by this morning.

No injuries were reported, said Bergquist, who added that the four employees of the building had already headed home for the day about an hour before the fire began.