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Fire hits DL manufacturer -- more than 20 employees temporarily out of work

BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE After the fire at CJJ, a manufacturing company in the Detroit Lakes industrial park. The blaze is believed to have started in the break room. Firefighters from Detroit Lakes, Audubon and Frazee battled the fire for about three hours Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

A late evening fire at a Detroit Lakes manufacturing company on Tuesday caused major damage and left more than 20 employees temporarily out of work.

Nobody was hurt in the fire at CJJ, Inc., which was reported by a passerby who saw the flames about 10:45 p.m., said Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Dave Baer.

"Upon arrival there was heavy smoke in the office area and flames coming through the garage door of the production area," he said.

CJJ is housed in a wood-frame two-story structure with an attached I-beam building that serves as the production area.

The lower part of the wood-frame building held offices, a break room and other space for CJJ. The top part was leased to a sign and decal company, Baer said.

CJJ makes collision repair equipment for the national market and skid steer attachments for the local market.

It's located at 1210 Fortune Ave., in the area behind Swanson's Repair and the Sandbar off Randolph Road.

"We had a lot of help from the Frazee and Audubon fire departments," Baer said. Both sent tanker trucks and engine trucks to pump the water, enabling firefighters to attack the sides of the fire as well as the front.

The two fire hydrants in the area were used by Detroit Lakes firefighters to shoot water from a hose on top of the ladder truck and to attack the fire from in front of the building.

Baer pulled his men out from inside the structure after noticing that large air conditioning units on the roof were beginning to sag.

"A minute or two later those big air conditioners went right through the roof," he said.

"We had been inside the structure trying to make our normal attack and knock it down," he said. "At that point it was risk versus reward -- it's not worth losing a life over, that's for sure."

Former Detroit Lakes fire chief Jeff Swanson was on the scene and used equipment from his nearby business, Swanson's Repair, to help fight the fire.

"He helped out a great deal," Baer said. "We had 20-foot garage doors that were buckling up (from the heat) and hard to get into -- he took them out with a payloader so we could gain access to that part of the building."

Firefighters were especially concerned about oxygen and acetylene tanks used for welding in the production area, and focused on keeping the fire from spreading far into that area, Baer said.

By 1:30 or 2 a.m. the fire was out. Baer was on the scene until about 4 a.m. with a state fire marshal, trying to determine the cause of the fire.

"It does not look suspicious at all at this point," he said.

The fire likely started in the wooden part of the structure, Baer added.

CJJ owner Charles Beaton referred a reporter to production manager Andrea Hoff, who said the fire started in the break room in the wooden part of the building.

"A full quarter of it is probably gone," she said. "The break room is gone, and there's a sheer and the saws for the steel and a couple of welders that were in there."

There are 22 employees and the business is 25 years old, she said.

"We bring in steel, cut it, weld it, paint it ... our biggest thing is we do automotive frame straighteners that get shipped all over the U.S. And then we do some skid steer attachments that are local," she said.

"We only have one shift, we're done at 5 p.m. ... nobody was here."

On Wednesday morning, the building was off-limits to everybody but an insurance inspector.

"As soon as the insurance person is done, we can get in there and start figuring out what still works and what doesn't," Hoff said. "We don't know how hot it got, if the wires were ruined ... there is a lot of computer controlled equipment down there."

As far as the employees, she said, "everyone is fine, they just waiting to find out what to do now."