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Potsdam silo fire presents dangers and difficulties for firefighters


POTSDAM — Firefighters closed off about a 1-mile stretch of Route 11 just outside the village Wednesday as they struggled to put out a silo fire.

The Potsdam Volunteer Fire Department responded to the Schober Farm at 7768 Route 11 about 10:30 a.m. after farm owners Erwin H. Schober and Laura L. Steinburg said they noticed smoke billowing out of the door and roof of the grain elevator.

Mr. Schober and Ms. Steinburg live next door to the uninsured farm, which they said has not been operational in 20 years. No injuries were reported.

Volunteer Fire Chief Timothy L. Jerome said once firefighters arrived on the scene, his crew was trying to determine the best way to battle the blaze. He said firefighters have to deal with a number of dangers when faced with silo fires.

“All the haylage is packed in there so tight and there was no access to get in there,” Chief Jerome said. “So we don’t dare ever send anyone in there. It’s pretty dangerous stuff, so you are kind of stuck working on the outside.”

Also, gases build up in a silo that can cause an explosion, and possible voids in the materials could cause firefighters to sink in and be smothered if the silo collapses during a fire, the chief said.

St. Lawrence County Fire and Rescue Deputy Coordinator Robert E. White Jr. said the silo was a third full of the chopped haylage, and while firefighters doused it with foam and water at ground level, the flames rose toward the top of the storage bin.

“We’re lucky because if we were looking at a silo that was filled to the top when the fire started, we would be here fighting it for days,” he said.

Even with the use of a ladder truck, which blasted water down through the silo’s roof at 400 gallons per minute, the fire still refused to die.

“It is still burning and will continue to smolder for another couple of days,” Chief Jerome said. “We will probably get a few more calls out there. Hopefully it will smolder itself out; we put about 80,000 gallons of water in there and there was about 15 feet of haylage left in there.”

The cause of the fire, Mr. Schober said, likely was his use of a demolition saw to cut the silo down for scrap on Tuesday. He said a piece of hot metal may have landed in the hay and smoldered throughout the night until he found it Wednesday morning.

“When I got here this morning, it was smoking and smoldering,” Mr. Schober said. “The fire went up into the silo. I’m not sure how it started, but it must have been a spark I didn’t see and the silage is so dry that the air must have gotten in there and started it up.”

Stockholm Volunteer Fire Department assisted in traffic control, closing off Route 11 from A.A. Kingston Middle School to Regan Road until about 1:50 p.m., when firefighters were preparing to leave the scene.

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