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Blaze not slowing Howard elevator

A backhoe moves fire-damaged remains Friday morning at the Howard Farmers Co-Op in Howard after a major fire Thursday night. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)

HOWARD — A pile of charred remains left from a massive fire was being cleaned, but Bruce Yanish called Friday “business as usual.”

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A total of 44 firefighters battled a blaze at the Howard Farmers Co-op Thursday night into Friday morning, but Yanish -- the grain elevator’s general manager -- said the business is staying open.

“It’s devastating,” Yanish said as workers cleaned up rubble from the major damage suffered to the feed mill equipment. “But at the same time, we’ve got a business to run and we’ve got products and services that we need to provide to our customers. We’re going to keep doing that.”

Howard Volunteer Fire Chief Nathan Ruml said the fire that started around 9:15 p.m. Thursday is “one of the bigger incidents we’ve ever had in Howard.” No cause has been determined and the fire is still under investigation, Ruml added. He said no one was injured.

Yanish said most of the business was salvaged and expected to be able to offer most services later Friday afternoon. Considering the close proximity of the grain bins and loading equipment at the co-op, Yanish said the outcome could have been a lot worse. A passerby driving along state Highway 37 called in the fire, Yanish said.

“If it would have been 3 in the morning, it would have been a whole different story,” he said.

The Howard Fire Department was holding training at the time of the fire at the department’s fire hall and responded quickly to the scene. Volunteer fire departments from Canova and Fedora also responded.

“There were just a lot of things that went well,” Yanish said.

Ruml said the fire was contained in about two hours, but firefighters worked on smoldering for an additional 10 hours, mopping up hot spots and areas of debris. There were five fire engines and four support vehicles at the scene.

John Essert, a Howard native, was working construction equipment Friday brought in to clean the remains.

“They put a lot of feed out of that mill and they do good business,” Essert said. “They’re good people all the way around.”

Bob Calmus, Miner County’s emergency manager, said firefighters were on the scene throughout the night and didn’t leave the scene until 9:30 a.m. Friday.

Yanish said he didn’t know what caused the fire and that there were no employees working at the elevator at that hour. He said it will be a couple of months before things return to normal, but said all 30 employees -- including the 12 who work in the feed mill area -- will make up for any shortfalls caused by the fire.

“You just thank God that nobody got hurt,” Essert said. “Elevator fires are very dangerous and things could have been much worse.”

The town of more than 800 relies heavily on the elevator and the co-op to keep Howard’s economy going.

“It’s a lot of the business in town, especially when you consider a lot of the things that they do, whether it’s agronomy or fertilizer or the gas station across the road,” Calmus said. “It really means a lot to this community.”

It’s the second major fire to hit Howard in the last five months. A fire at Howard Cold Storage and Locker -- about 200 yards away from the co-op’s elevator -- burned to the ground after an early morning fire in November 2013. Calmus said the two businesses are integral to the community.

“Even though it devastating, there’s things that we have to do” Yanish said.