Fire engulfs Black Oak Gin seed house

Wednesday, December 10, 2003
Trucks from the North American Sales and Marketing Company fill trucks with damaged cotton seed to be used as cattle feed, as seed house continues to smoulder through the week end.

More than 40 area firemen were at the scene at the Black Oak Gin

Tuesday night, Dec. 2, trying to control the inferno of burning

cottonseed inside the full capacity, 7,500 ton, seed house.

"We got a call Tuesday morning about 8 a.m. to come to the gin and

help them locate the origin of the smoke coming out of the center of

the seed house," said Kenny Vaughn, Black Oak fire chief. "It is hard,

if not impossible, to ever find out what exactly causes a fire like

that, but Donny Kelton (gin manager) and Wayne Couch (employee), were

seeing if anything could be done before it got too far along.

"They did everything they could, but the fire was just too big to put

out. Our hope was to contain it to that general area."

Caraway and Monette fire departments joined the Black Oak firemen about 6:15 that night, as the fire began to heat up and emit heavy smoke. Soon the fire broke

through and burned through the top of the seed house.

The firemen worked through the night watching the fire and putting out hot spots where they could.

"When we got our call Tuesday night, we contacted Caraway also," Monette Fire Chief Bob Blankenship said. "We looked at the seed house from every angle, seeing if there was anything that could be done. The seed house was full and came within a few feet of the bottom of the walkway overhead. We used a backhoe to open up the ends of the seed house and looked at it from every angle."

"This was an awful way to get on the job training for some of our new firemen, but it was a valuable lesson learned," Blankenship said.

"About the time we got home Wednesday morning, about 2 a.m., an alarm

went off again, for a fire in the gin building. We were able to get the gin fire out," Vaughn said. "It didn't appear to be related to the seed house fire. Things of this sort are so hard to determine cause. We will probably never know what started the seed house fire, it just happened."

Bo James, Caraway assistant fire chief, and Jack Richardson, coordinator for the Craighead County Office of Emergency Management, along with Rescue 36, of Monette, were on the scene along with the firemen from all three departments.

"I had one of the most helpless experiences that any fire chief can ever have, as I watched three of my firemen climb up a 60 foot tall ladder, and disapper into a thick cloud of smoke," Blankenship said.

"They had their full gear on, plus a water hose attached to the ladder. About 45 feet up they disappeared into the smoke. My heart sank until they reemerged in about 15 minutes. It was just too hot for them to do anything about it."

Trucks from North American Sales and Marketing Co, a commercial and agri-business related salvage firm, have been on the scene all week removing the damaged cotton seed for use as cattle feed.

"All the seed is salvagable," said Don Jones, president of the firm. The smoke can still be seen from the Black Oak Gin, but the worst of it is over. Now the job of cleaning up the debris and evaluating the loss begins. The ginning operation is owned by several area farmers.

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