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Fire consumes Winfred business after explosion

J.B. Meyer, an employee at A.H. Meyer and Sons Inc. beeswax plant of Winfred, surveys the damage from a morning explosion and subsequent fire. (Laura Wehde/Republic Photo)

WINFRED -- Fire has once again occurred at the Wax Plant Number 2 of A.H. Meyer and Sons in Winfred, this time sending one employee to a Minneapolis hospital.

Fire was reported at 9:40 a.m. According to Madison Fire Chief Jerry Johnson, the fire stemmed from an explosion at the plant, which houses a beeswax purification process that prepares the wax for use in cosmetics and candles.

Part of the removal process involves a "flammable solvent that's very similar to lacquer thinner," Johnson said.

"We suspect some leaked and something of that nature hit a spark," Johnson said. "Where that leak or that spark came from, we don't know."

Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Tim Walburg said three employees were in the building when the fire started. Although all three were reportedly taken to Madison -- one by private vehicle and two by ambulance -- Johnson believes one of the employees was later transported to Minneapolis for burn treatment.

The explosion and fire gutted the building, leaving walls precariously balanced against a strong wind. After firefighters from Madison and Howard extinguished the blaze, a portion of the building's west wall collapsed as firemen were putting protective tape around the scene.

As he surveyed the scene late Monday afternoon, J.B. Meyer -- great-grandson of A.H. Meyer -- figured the building to be a total loss.

"It's pretty well completely destroyed," Meyer said. "It's going to be a big loss."

Approximately 20 firefighters each from the Madison and Howard fire departments spent more than two hours fighting the fire, their focus on cooling a large solvent tank and three propane tanks.

Johnson said the fire would be investigated by state and local fire marshals, insurance officials and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Both the marshals and the ATF were involved in previous investigations.

An explosion and fire occurred at the same location in 1990 and 2004. In 2002, a fire destroyed Meyer's beeswax rendering plant approximately a block south of Monday's explosion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.