The Richland County Highway Department’s shop in Hankinson, North Dakota, and the equipment stored inside are expected to be a total loss following a nighttime fire Monday, Jan. 18, County Engineer Jesse Sedler said.
The Hankinson shop is the highway department’s main shop. Some of the equipment stored in the shop at the time of the fire included five plow trucks, three motor graders, a payloader, a sign truck, a semi tractor with a belly dump, a fork lift and a riding mower, County Emergency Management Director Brett Lambrecht said.
“The main thing is we had no injuries, no loss of life. Equipment and the building we can move on with insurance and get them replaced,” Lambrecht said.
Sedler said he expects the cost of damages to be in the millions.
The shop housed 11 employees who will now be shuffled around to different shops in the county, Sedler said.
“Right now the county engineer is working with his staff and we’re working together to find plows and motor graders to get to the county,” Lambrecht said.
County leaders are currently deciding whether to purchase or rent new equipment and where to store that equipment, along with equipment that was stored on the shop property.
Lambrecht said the county is trying to make decisions quickly and is exploring all options for acquiring equipment.
At approximately 7:36 p.m. Monday, the Hankinson Fire Department was called out to the fire by a motorist who noticed smoke coming from the building as they drove by the shop.
The fire department immediately called for mutual aid upon arriving at the scene and seeing smoke coming from nearly every crack in the building, prompting fears of black smoke from vehicle fires inside.
Fire departments from Wahpeton, Fairmount, Great Bend, Dwight and Lidgerwood, North Dakota, gave mutual aid. Hankinson Ambulance and the Richland County Sheriff’s Office also responded to the call.
The first priority was ensuring that nobody was inside the building. Due to it being a three-day weekend, it was confirmed nobody was in the building at the time of the fire.
The fire was located in the northeast center of the building. Fire crews tried to access the building multiple times, but due to the intensity of the heat and smoke, were pushed back.
“They got in 150 feet and had to back out. Another crew got in about 50 feet and had to back out. Then we had to go to plan B, which was to knock one of the doors in at the opposite end of the fire,” Lambrecht said.
A payloader was used to remove all doors from the building and give fire crews greater access to the building. Once the south door was knocked down it took about 30 minutes to extinguish the fire to the point where fire crews had good visibility, Lambrecht said.
Jed Bommersbach, an excavation contractor and owner of JBX, received a call for help from his brother Jade, a volunteer firefighter with the Hankinson Fire Department. He rushed to the scene with a payloader to remove the doors.
“My first thing was: how can I get there as fast and efficient (as possible) to help right away?” Bommersbach said.
In a Facebook post detailing his experience, Bommersbach said he admired the courage of his neighbors and surrounding communities for quickly responding to the fire.
“We did not just lose our specialized equipment of the highway department, we lost a big part of people’s everyday lives. We all count on the people and equipment to get to where (we’re) going and do what we do day in and day out in life …” Bommersbach said.
Crews remained on site until approximately 4 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, managing hot spots inside the building.
The North Dakota Deputy Fire Marshal investigated the scene Tuesday to determine the cause of the fire.
This story will continue to be updated as more information becomes available.