County commission approves declaration of emergency following fire

The Richland County Board of Commissioners passed an emergency declaration this week following the Monday night fire at the highway department's Hankinson shop.

The Richland County Commission approved a declaration of emergency during a special meeting Friday, Jan. 22 following a fire at the Richland County Highway Department shop in Hankinson on Monday, Jan. 18.

The building is the county highway department's main shop. The building and equipment stored inside are expected to be a total loss, the News Monitor previously reported.

The emergency declaration was made because the loss of equipment and shop building are a public safety concern, Richland County Auditor Leslie Hage said.

“We don’t have the equipment, we don’t have the building, we need to keep our public safe in the winter when there’s snow and we’ve got to move quickly to replace things and make sure our roads stay clear,” Hage said.

The emergency declaration allows the county to access $164,000 in emergency funds. Those emergency funds cannot be used to purchase road and bridge equipment, but can be used for rebuilding the shop, Hage said.

The emergency money can be transferred to a fund used to purchase road and bridge equipment.

Declaring an emergency also gives the county the option to begin rebuilding the shop without having to bid the project out.

It will be some time before insurance makes a determination on whether the equipment and building are a total loss, Hage said.

Fire marshals determined the fire started in the electrical room of the shop. Due to the damage incurred by removing doors from the building to access the fire, investigators are unlikely to pinpoint the exact wire that caused the fire, Emergency Manager Brett Lambrecht said.

When power was cut to the building, it was discovered that both fuses on the transformer were blown, Lambrecht said.

Because no crime is suspected and no death occurred, it will take several weeks before an official determination is made by fire marshals on the cause of the fire, Lambrecht said.

Neighboring counties, the city of Wahpeton, area farmers and townships have offered to help with road maintenance during the winter while rental equipment is being procured.

“We’re not in a purchase mode right now, we’re just looking at securing equipment to get through the snow removal season and we’ll do that via short term lease or rentals,” Richland County Commissioner Rollie Ehlert said.

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