SMI warehouse total loss

One of two totaled semi trailer boxes at the warehouse. A third semi box also sustained heavy fire damage. (Photo by Keri Bugenhagen, TPD)

By Keri Bugenhagen

News Editor


CRESCO – The Cresco Fire Department responded to a major fire call at SMI Co., located at 12th St. West in Cresco, shortly after 6 o’clock Monday evening, Nov. 14, at which time flames could be seen shooting through the roof of the pallet manufacturing warehouse. Additionally, a cloud of thick smoke billowed its way through the west residential end of Cresco, and onlookers reported the intense flames could be seen for miles west of town.

Meanwhile, local law enforcement blocked off 6th Ave. West, clearing traffic for emergency personnel. However, a long line of vehicles were parked along both sides of Highway 9 West and Valley Ave., filled with spectators attempting to catch a glimpse of the burning warehouse.

As of late Tuesday morning there have been no verified reports of injuries, however, the Regional Health Services of Howard County Ambulance crew was on standby Monday during the fire call just in case.

Cresco Fire Chief Neal Stapelkamp estimates about 45-50 firefighters responded to the blaze Monday evening, including Lime Springs and Protivin Fire Departments.

The cause of the blaze is currently unknown. “We’re still investigating at this time and probably will be for a while,” said Stapelkamp. “The pallet warehouse itself is considered a 100 percent loss, structure and content.”

Two semi trailer boxes were totaled and another was significantly damaged, according to Chief Stapelkamp.

“We’ve got some smoke and minimal water damage inside the production building, but we chose to make a quick removal of all their documents and hardware last night, so we were able to get most of their operation and ‘in-office’ items secured,” he said. “We had no fire penetration into the manufacturing area whatsoever, which is probably going to allow them to build pallets today [Tuesday].”

Stapelkamp also reported that SMI Co. President and General Manager Chuck Burke had indicated Tuesday morning that the company will be able to produce pallets that day.

Still, the fire chief stated that when the fire call came in Monday evening, he was concerned. “When a call comes in, like this one, you always have a little concern,” he said, explaining that structures such

as the SMI Co. warehouse contain a significant fuel load due to the nature of business, and he further says there tends to be a large risk for the fire to spread.

“Employees here did a great job,” said Stapelkamp. “They helped knock the fire down in its infancy stage with an extinguisher, but it spread more rapidly than they could react to it.”

The fire chief says employees at SMI Co. closed a fire door between the warehouse and the manufacturing area, which helped stop the fire from spreading as well.

Stapelkamp estimates the Protivin and Lime Springs fire departments were dismissed between midnight and 1 a.m. Tuesday, and the Cresco Fire Department checked back into the station at about 3:35 a.m.

He adds, “A fire of that magnitude, when you utilize a number of men for a number of hours is significant.”

He also says the intense training area firefighters undergo proved important Monday night. “The training during a call like this shines, and that’s the reason we do what we do and that’s why we need the equipment we need,” he said. “In today’s environment the buildings are bigger with heavier fuel loads, and we need to be able to bust the fire right out of the gate in order to have a chance to save anything.”

Stapelkamp says prior to arriving at SMI Co. Monday evening, he knew the efforts of the fire crew would be focused on saving the manufacturing area of SMI Co. “It was very obvious with this fire that we weren’t going to save [the warehouse structure], so our efforts were focused on saving the production area, and that’s where we built our wall,” he said, adding, “All of our training paid off.”

While the warehouse was a complete loss General Manager Burke said early Tuesday morning he is grateful that the fire department was able to keep the flames from reaching past the warehouse. “The Cresco Fire Department got here soon enough to contain [the fire],” he said.

Burke adds, “We lost quite a few pallets in our warehouse, probably around 10,000 at least.”

There is a glimmer of hope in the wake of the fire. As reported by the fire chief, Burke also said, “It looks like we can maybe get the production side up and running by this afternoon. Hopefully we’ll be up and going again very shortly.”

Burke was not at SMI Co. when the fire began. “I got here about half an hour after it started,” he said.

As Burke arrived on-scene he says he was worried about making sure everyone who had been inside the warehouse had gotten out safely. “Once I found that out, what was going through my mind was all of these customers that I have loads going to today [Tuesday] that expect to receive these pallets,”he said, “and making sure they get their pallets so it [the fire] doesn’t stop their production.”

Burke concentrated on contacting most customers until after midnight Tuesday morning. “The larger ones like John Deere and IBM, for example, I just wanted to reassure that we’re going to get our production up and going right away,” he said. “We’ll get them their product as soon as we can, and they were all very understanding.”

Burke says in the daylight the damage “looks a lot worse than it did last night.”

He adds, “Like I said, there were about 10,000 pallets inside that warehouse. Basically we’re going to have to rebuild our inventory. A lot of customers call in and expect an order to be delivered in less than 24 hours; it’s going to take a little bit to get our inventory built back up so we can do things like that.”

Burke says he would like to thank the Cresco, Lime Springs and Protivin Fire Departments for the great job they did in responding to the fire call and containing the flames to the warehouse. “Like I said, hopefully we’ll have production up and going this afternoon and we’ll just go from there,” he said.

Assisting the Cresco Fire Department were the Lime Springs Fire Department, Protivin Fire Department, Howard County Emergency Management, Regional Health Services Ambulance, Cresco Police Department and Mehmert Tiling Inc. and excavating.


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