Emergency responders declared victory Saturday after extinguishing the last of a four-day old recycling yard fire in Becker, Minnesota, which generated smoke thick enough to be seen from space.
Meanwhile, state officials including Gov. Tim Walz strongly criticized the yard owner, Northern Metals Recycling, for not following required procedures at its Becker facility.
“They stacked these things 90-foot high and hundreds-yards long with no fire breaks between them as they’re supposed to have,” Walz told the audience at a public forum Friday.
However, a statement issued by Northern Metals CEO Scott Helberg Friday challenged what procedures apply since the Becker site has never been operational.
“The shredder has yet to be turned on and its installation is ongoing,” the statement reads. “Nevertheless, the facility is in strict compliance with all applicable requirements.”
The recycling company moved its metal shredder operation to the eastern central Minnesota community last summer after an order from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to shut down its North Minneapolis site owing to pollution concerns. A major fire broke out at that site in December 2016.
Contract firefighters hired by Northern extinguished the last of the fire in Becker Saturday. They remained on site throughout the weekend to deal with any flareups, the Becker police Facebook page states.
Time lapse video taken last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES 16 satellite clearly records the smoke plume spreading southeast from Becker, leaving black soot across the recent snowfall.
Rapid depletion of available water dictated a major in tactics several days into the blaze. F irefighters cut a fire break through the crushed vehicles to help protect buildings on the site, including the main source of electrical power to the scene, a press release issued by the Becker Police Department states.
“It has been determined that the best course of action is to separate a portion of the burning vehicle stack and let it burn itself out,” the release states.
Thanks to winds from the northwest, odor from the burning facility became noticeable in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area 50 miles away.
Firefighters have worked in sub-freezing temperatures since the first report of fire at about 2:25 a.m. Tuesday. The fire, although contained to crushed vehicles in the wrecking yard, generated heavy smoke, raising concerns about air quality.
No evacuation order was issued during the emergency. However, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health recommends that people concerned about their health should seek advice from medical care providers.
“In the meantime, advice to shelter-in-place or move away from the source of the smoke is the right advice for nearby occupants,” the release states.
Thursday classes at all schools in Becker, population 4,856,were cancelled.