Investigators determined lightning to be the cause of a Thursday fire that injured two people and destroyed the Cooperative Producers Inc. dry fertilizer plant near U.S. Highway 6 and Showboat Boulevard.
The Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office issued a press release Friday listing the origin of the fire as natural causes from a lightning strike.
Two injuries were reported as a result of the fire, both injured parties were treated and released at Mary Lanning Healthecare within hours of the fire, the release stated.
Hastings Rural Fire Chief Bob Hansen said the men who were injured were semitrailer truck drivers who had been sleeping in their vehicles parked at the facility.
Hastings Rural Fire Department, with automatic aid from Hastings Fire and Rescue, responded about 11:30 p.m.
As firefighters approached, Hansen said the building was fully involved and the roof was already compromised. From that point, the main concern was containing the fire.
He called for mutual aid from neighboring departments, and volunteers from departments in Glenvil, Juniata and Trumbull helped during the efforts to stop the fire.
Hansen said the building was unoccupied at the time and no firefighters were injured in the process of fighting the blaze.
Hansen said the railroad tracks was closed as standard protocol to avoid trains traveling through the smoke or having a train moving through the area while firefighers were working to stop the fire.
He said U.S. Highway 6 also had to be closed because firefighters had hooked up hoses to a hydrant on the south side of the road and the hose had to cross the highway.
“We were utililizing every hydrant we could,” he said.
Both the tracks and highway have reopened.
Hansen said they considered evacuating mobile homes at Kingswood Plazato the northwest of the fire due to the heavy smoke. Due to the humid weather, rain and fog, the smoke wasn’t rising very high into the air.
Before a decision was made, he said the wind shifted enough to make evacuation unnessary. People continued to monitor the situation for changes.
At this point, he said they are waiting for the smoke to clear enough to fly a drone over the remaining structure and get pictures of the inside. Hansen said there has been no determination as to the cause of the fire yet.
“We’re waiting for the smoke to clear to use a drone to fly over and see pictures of the inside,” he said.
Rural firefighters will be on hand to deal with hot spots, but Hansen expects the remnants to smolder for some time.
“This is going to be an ongoing process for a couple days,” he said.
Adams County Emergency Management Director Ron Pughes stated in a news release about 3 a.m. Friday that the wind would continue to move smoke into Hastings throughout the day and that residents should keep windows closed and stay inside, expecially those who have health issues that could be exasperated by smoke.
Hastings Fire and Rescue Chief Brad Starling issued a press release on Friday afternoon. It stated that the fire hasn’t been fully extinguished due to the building collapse and other structural hazards. This will result in the possibility of smoke being in the area through the weekend.
Starling wrote the smoke isn’t any more hazardous than smoke from an outside burn, but residents should be prepared to take precautions if the wind causes smoke to travel into residential areas again.
Precautions would include washing any exposed surfaces with soap and water, and keeping doors and windows shut until the smoke subsides. People with a predisposition to respiratory and breathing problems may find the smoke to be irritating and should be prepared to wear a dust mask or relocate until the smoke subsides.
Hastings Rural Fire, Hastings Fire and Rescue, Adams County Emergency Management, Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, the National Weather Service and CPI representatives have been working together to ensure the safety and health of the public.
“We will be closely monitoring the weather and will provide updates should weather conditions indicate smoke causing potential problems to our residents,” Starling wrote. “Thank you for your patience and cooperation through this process.”
Preliminary damage estimates for the building are at $14 million with another $5 million in product loss, according to the state fire marshal’s office.
CPI has locations in 32 Nebraska communities across a 12-county area. The company sells 16 different dry fertilizer products to farmers at retail through 11 separate dry fertlizer plants.
CPI opened the dry fertilizer plant at 265 N. Showboat Blvd. in 2018. It was a 42,000-ton storage facility for dry fertilizer with a 400-ton blending tower able to load out a 24-ton semitrailer in less than eight minutes.
The terminal served as the company’s primary retail and wholesale dry fertilizer facility. The plant received shipments of product by rail and then moved it out by truck, with loads going straight to CPI customers’ farms and other retailers’ business locations.
CPI issued a press release regarding the fire and described it as a tragedy.
“I am very thankful and humbled by all of the outpouring of support we have received from the community of Hastings as well as the leaders of various Nebraska Cooperatives throughout the state,” Allan Zumpfe, the co-op’s CEO, wrote in the press release. “Their concern along has given me more confidence in the future of the cooperative system. We will rebuild this great facility and asset to our company.”