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UPDATE: Deerwood man dies in head-on crash with semitrailer

Firefighters contain blaze at Big Wood Timber Frames

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A pile of timbers burns near a boiler Friday, May 31, at the Big Wood Timber Frames property, located at Greenwood Street and Business Highway 371, south of Brainerd. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 5
A firefighter can be seen through a burning fence at Big Wood Timber Frames Friday, May 31, in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch3 / 5
Brainerd firefighters battle flames Friday, May 31, in the manufacturing yard at Big Wood Timber Frames just off Business Highway 371, south of Brainerd. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch4 / 5
A Brainerd firefighter battles flames Friday, May 31, in the manufacturing yard at Big Wood Timber Frames just off Business Highway 371, south of Brainerd. Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes described it as a relatively good outcome that only a timber pile and fence were burned while mounds of wood nearby remained untouched. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch5 / 5

Fire broke out Friday afternoon in the lumber yards of Big Wood Timber Frames, quickly consuming a pile of logs and a plank wall before responders were able to contain the flames and clear the scene.

Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes said responders were first notified of the fire at 3:38 p.m., Friday, May 31. Arriving at the manufacturing yard on 11425 Greenwood St. off Business Highway 371, just south of Brainerd, firefighters faced the prospect of smothering flames in tight confines between mounds of timber lumped next to storage buildings amid dry, hot weather.

The fire was largely contained to a pile of wood next to a self-feeding boiler (which transfer logs from a pile without human control), as well as a tall plank fence that partitioned Big Wood Timber Frames from private property owned by neighbor Mark Strobel. Holmes noted a nearby storage building was also affected, if minimally. There were no injuries reported.

The Big Wood lot covers 5 acres and includes multiple buildings erected from reclaimed materials, including the former Minneapolis Racquet Club and beams from an old waterpark. Nearly everything inside—from furniture created from extra-large boards to old blast doors salvaged from the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden Hills—has been repurposed.

The projects the company undertakes range from reassembling antique barns in their entirety to fashioning flooring and paneling from reclaimed wood to be used in remodels or new buildings. Antique corrugated steel is among the materials collected at Big Wood as well, along with details from doors, windows and more.

Lou Wirtz, a resident of Baxter visiting Strobel's property for a garage sale, said she and her friend, Banilde Bauer, of Aitkin, smelled smoke and spotted it rising from the burning fence. They promptly notified Strobel to call emergency services.

Shortly after, Strobel approached the fire to try to contain the flames before it could spread to an adjoining shed or his own house. He relented when the situation grew too dangerous and firefighters arrived on the scene.

"I was using my garden hose to keep the fire from hitting my house, because the fire was coming across the property line and toward my house," Strobel said. "Luckily, it happened during the day and we had a garage sale going on and people in the backyard spotted it burning. If it had started burning during the night, I don't know what would have happened."

Responders were still engaged in final cleanup efforts well after 5 p.m., work necessitated by the dense concentration of wood on the pile, which amounted to something of a bonfire.

While investigations are underway and it's too early to determine with certainty, Holmes said the boiler—which is used by Big Wood Timber Frames for everything from heating and manufacturing, to drying and heating with a kiln—is a likely culprit.

A manager on site said he couldn't understand how the boiler, a self-contained system, could cause the fire.

"The boiler is all right here. That's what we'll be looking into," said Holmes as lot employees and firefighters worked in conjunction to put out the last sputtering embers. "They have surveillance video. We'll review that next week and just see if we can pin down where it started, but we're leaning that it's this outside boiler."

With the temperature outside hovering around 85 degrees, firefighters dealt with dry, heated conditions—though Holmes said weather did not factor much into the incident.

"I don't know that there's much weather had to do with it," Holmes said. "I just think the material they had around and if the boiler isn't working properly—we'll check into that."

Gesturing at mounds of heavy timber enclosing the area—much of it treated wood—Holmes said it was fortunate the fire contained itself to a corner of the lot, pushed there by a steady breeze out of the northwest.

"There's a lot of fuel load around here," Holmes said. "It certainly could (get out of hand). There's a lot of chipped material, sawdust and heavy wood. We're definitely thankful the wind was blowing the way it was, not back into the yard or into the buildings."

The Brainerd Fire Department was assisted on scene by the Crow Wing County's Sheriff's Office and North Memorial Ambulance.

For more photos of the fire, visit https://bit.ly/2Z0u8hw.

Gabriel Lagarde

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