Grain elevator burns to the ground in St. Marys

ST. MARYS, Kan. - A wooden grain elevator burned to the ground early Friday morning in St. Mary's, Kan.

While Adam Harpe scans through his brother's photos of the blaze, he's thankful his business is still intact.

"I was concerned with maybe if there was some smoke, depending on which way the wind was going, if it was getting inside the doors or anything like that," said Harpe, who owns Premier Custom Baths downtown. "But I came down this morning and there was no smoke inside the building."

He credits the volunteer firefighter team for its quick action by spraying down nearby buildings.

"If they hadn't sprayed it down, the fire department, there could have been some tremendous damage," Harpe said.

"We could have lost downtown very easily, parts of it anyway," Fire Chief Ray Bartchuly added.

Bartchuly said he thought this might happen, because this was one of the largest and oldest wood grain elevators in the state.

"It's common for wood elevators to burn, lightning, different explosions and things, recently there have been some elevator explosions, things like that happen," Bartchuly said.

However, since it was in the process of being demolished, he didn't expect the early morning phone call.

"I'll be honest with you, I was shocked, because I assumed it would get torn down before they had a fire," he said.

Rena Fowles, who owns Emerald Diner and lives in the apartment above it, was equally shocked.

"I looked out my window and it looked like what i thought were fireworks, it was wild," Fowles said.

The monster was so wild they called in at least four other area fire departments.

"There was a time that we didn't open the door, my friend wanted to but it was hot, it was hot in the face," he said.

To Harpe, it's a testament to the first responders.

"Just based off the amount of flames and the amount of wood that was out there, the fact that they kept everything closed and confined to just that one area is amazing," Harpe said.

Officials with the Nemaha County Co Op, which owns the property, said some bins behind the grain elevator suffered severe structural damaged and may need to be demolished. Those bins contain about $1 million worth of soy beans.

St. Marys fire officials said they don't know what caused the fire and will continue to investigate.

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