Nearly a year ago, on Jan. 18, 2021, the Hankinson Highway Department shop caught fire. It is still unclear how the fire started, but is believed to be a mechanical fire of some kind. The event ended up damaging five plows, a riding lawnmower, a semi-tractor, three motor-graders, and a sign truck among other items.
An emergency call was made by someone driving by who saw smoke coming from the building. Fire departments from surrounding towns in the area rushed to the scene after the Hankinson department saw smoke coming from all over the shop, which made them fear the black smoke was caused by vehicle fires. Efforts to put out the fire were hindered by high flame temperatures and heavy smoke.
Acting as the main shop for the county, the building housed 11 employees, none of whom were hurt during the fire. However, the shop itself was a complete loss.
In the aftermath of the fire, the employees at the shop were relocated to shops in Wahpeton and Colfax, North Dakota. Equipment has been borrowed from other locations in order for the department to keep up maintenance on the roads in the area for the past year.
“We didn’t have our own equipment, so we had to borrow a lot of our equipment from nearby counties,” County Engineer Jesse Sedler said.
New equipment has been trickling in slowly. Last year the department approved the purchase of a new plow, a Bobcat T770 which cost around $61,700. This plow was a replacement for the Bobcat T770 which had been destroyed in the fire.
While all of the plows have been replaced, they require blades, and these have been on loan from nearby shops. Replacement blades are expected to arrive soon in order to return the lent items. These replacements are the same design as the ones being used.
In total insurance paid for about 1.1 million dollars in damages. This money is contributing to the construction of a new shop which is expected to cost around 4.2 million.
Sedler expects the shop to be completed in December 2022. Construction will begin when the ground thaws out this spring to allow for the foundations to be built.
Due to the fire’s unknown origin not much can be done in change of practice to prevent future fires. A simple mechanical failure occurring in the shop is something that is difficult to prevent according to Sedler.
The time after the incident was tough for the highway department, lacking a key shop and so much equipment made road maintenance more difficult.
“It took us longer to plow snow, luckily we had a pretty mild winter. In the summer we didn’t have all of our trucks to haul gravel. Not having your fleet stinks,” Sedler said
With plans for the shop underway, and equipment being fully replaced the shop is expected to be back in full operation this time next year.