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Family loses farming equipment, supplies in fire

Ten-year-old Nathan Sazama was in his bedroom just after 9 p.m. Tuesday night when he noticed flames in the window of his family's equipment building.

Fire engulfed a large two-story equipment building east of Brainerd Tuesday night as explosions of propane tanks and other combustibles punctuated the night. No one was injured, but the Sazama family on Mail Route Road off Highway 18 lost extensive amounts of tools, farming equipment, 10 tons of seed corn and nearly a semi-load of straw. The family noticed the fire about 9:20 p.m. More details and a full story will be in Thursday’s paper. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)
Fire engulfed a large two-story equipment building east of Brainerd Tuesday night as explosions of propane tanks and other combustibles punctuated the night. No one was injured, but the Sazama family on Mail Route Road off Highway 18 lost extensive amounts of tools, farming equipment, 10 tons of seed corn and nearly a semi-load of straw. The family noticed the fire about 9:20 p.m. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video)
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Ten-year-old Nathan Sazama was in his bedroom just after 9 p.m. Tuesday night when he noticed flames in the window of his family's equipment building.

Moments later an explosion nearly rocked him off his feet.

The family's two-story equipment building was engulfed in flame with multiple explosions, perhaps as many as 10, coming from inside the structure as flammable gases and equipment gave way to the intense heat. Explosions included propane tanks and acetylene torches.

No one was hurt in the fire, but the loss to the Sazama family was extensive in farming equipment, supplies, workshop tools and straw. The cattle, calves and two Arabian horses were not injured. The equipment building, more than 3,200 square feet, is about 150 feet from the Sazama's home on Mail Route Road east of Brainerd.

The first call for the Brainerd Fire Department left firefighters unsure if the house had exploded or another building was affected.

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Nathan called his dad when he saw the flames. Moments later a window popped.

"A few minutes later, the door just exploded," Nathan said. The blast blew the 14-foot-by-14-foot door off the building. "I almost fell over."

The sound was so loud the family expected people a mile down the road could hear the boom. Nathan's dad Dennis Sazama ran to the building as soon as his son alerted him to the fire. When he reached a side door, it was hot to the touch. He decided not to open it.

"The whole building was on fire when we got to it," Dennis Sazama said. His wife, Cindy, called 911.

Inside the inferno was his combine, bailers, tractors, a vintage motorcycle, Bobcat, and numerous tools and other equipment and tires. In addition, 10 tons of seed corn and nearly a semi-load of straw fueled the flames. Twenty-eight 1,000-pound straw bales were inside the building.

"All of it gone in a fire," Nathan said. "And now it's just a big pile of burned rubble."

Firefighters had additional challenges with a lot of flammable liquids and compressed gas containers inside the building. One hundred gallons of motor oil had been dropped off that day. Beyond adding to flammables, the oil clung to hoses and firefighters' gear. The cold weather provided additional obstacles for equipment, cracking valves on the truck and damaging hose sections.

The Sazama family has lived at the 17-acre farm for a decade. They also work additional land. Besides farming and raising cattle, Dennis Sazama also works at Menards.

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As he calmly watched firefighters work on the flames, Dennis Sazama said he had no idea what started the fire. Now, he said, is when a person finds out how good their insurance really is.

"At least it's not the house," Cindy Sazama said. "The Lord will provide."

Neighbor Linda Cohee was watching TV when she heard loud booms. Her dogs started barking and sounds of explosions continued. When she went to look out her front window, she saw the flames in the distance.

"I just wanted to make sure it wasn't their house," she said of her neighbors. "It was really big," she said of the fire. "It was like an explosion. It just took off."

With temperatures in the single digits, Cohee stood with her neighbors on dark gravel side road a short walk from the Sazama's driveway. They watched the fire continue to burn intensely illuminating a stand of tall pines in a dark outline in front of the yellow-orange glow. A police officer drove over and said they could return to their property, noting there were questions about a power source.

Water tankers made repeated trips along the gravel road bringing more water after refilling at the nearest fire hydrant at the former state hospital on Highway 18. Mail Route Road is just off Crow Wing County Road 8, which links to Highway 18. The Sazama farm is about 15 miles from Brainerd.

"We have a cool little neighborhood here," Cohee said.

About 30 firefighters were on the scene. In addition to the Brainerd Fire Department, Garrison sent two tankers and a crew to assist in suppressing the fire and shuttling water. Four different tankers were involved in bringing water to fight the fire. It took about two hours to get the fire under control. With Brainerd firefighters involved on the scene, Nisswa Fire Department sent down an engine crew to cover the Brainerd station should a fire crew be needed on another call. One Brainerd Fire Department engine leaving the Mail Route Fire about 1:46 a.m. was diverted to a crash with injuries on County Road 144 just north of Thompson Road.

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Firefighters remained on the scene until 2:38 a.m. They may have been there hours longer if an excavator wasn't found from a community member. The fire department searched for an available excavator to find an owner available at that hour and one that was plugged into to a heater so it would be usable at that cold hour. The excavator allowed firefighters to get to the hot spots and put the fire out faster in the 60-foot-by-57-foot structure. The house was not threatened by the fire.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the cause of the fire was undetermined. Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek said the value of the building and its contents was valued at $275,000. That doesn't represent the replacement value. In addition to the crash call, firefighters had another call just about 2:38 a.m. Wednesday at the Brainerd Technical Design at Thiesse Road and Crow Wing County 45 by the Pepsi plant in south Brainerd. The fire department reported quite a bit of water damage at the business.

RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .

Related Topics: FIRES
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