The Hastings community received a collective blow to the midsection Wednesday, Sept. 13 at 10:34 p.m. The call came in reporting an 11-alarm fire at the now-closed Hastings Creamery at 1701 …
The Hastings community received a collective blow to the midsection Wednesday, Sept. 13 at 10:34 p.m. The call came in reporting an 11-alarm fire at the now-closed Hastings Creamery at 1701 Vermillion Street. By the time crews arrived on the scene, large plumes of black smoke could be seen emanating from the building. By 11 p.m. when the Journal arrived on the scene, the flames had enveloped the entire middle of the property and multiple agencies set up to play defense until the fire was brought under control. They did not gain control until around 2 a.m.
The fire at the manufacturing plant comes as part of a long, drama-filled end of 2022 and all of 2023 for the creamery and its owners, 3D LLC. Wastewater problems began to surface late in 2022 according to a 34-page report filed by the Met Council back in June of 2023. Those problems carried into this year and ultimately led to the disconnection of the creamery from the city sewer lines on June 4.
What followed for the creamery reportedly caused a financial strain that could not be overcome. The plant was forced to pump all of its waste into large temporary tanks on site and those tanks were pumped empty and hauled to an offsite location. That process cost the creamery roughly $7,000 per day according to former president Justin Malone. In total, Malone said that they had spent nearly $750,000 to gain compliance with Met Council’s wishes. Those efforts failed and on August 18, 2023, the 113-year-old business shut its doors. The same fate hit the newly constructed Dairy Store.
The closure brought with it a plethora of action on site for the next few weeks. The wastewater pumps and tanks were removed from the exterior, and it looked like many of the supplies and processing machines were removed from inside the plant with several semis loaded and hauled away. The action looked to last around a week or so and seemed to have wrapped up over a week before the fire.
Fast forward to the night of Sept. 13 when the call came into Hastings Fire Department (HFD) about a fire at the creamery. It did not take long for the fire to fully engulf the building in flames resulting in the mutual aid call going out to several departments in the area. There was also a concern about potential chemicals being in the plant, primarily ammonia.
A Dakota County Sheriff Officer (DCSO) on the scene suggested everyone stay back and definitely stay out of the path of the smoke that was low-hanging band blowing directly across the street down 17th Street West. He then mentioned that there was talk of a shelter in place order going out to residents west of Vermillion Street in the affected area.
The smoke covered both the Dairy Store and Kwik Trip and ultimately forced the closure of Kwik Trip for the night. Because of the smoke crossing Vermillion Street and the need to keep the street open for emergency vehicles, Vermillion Street was closed at County Road 47 to the south and 15th Street to the north, a nearly half-mile stretch of road.
The shelter-in-place order that was issued shortly after the discussion with DCSO and Fire Marshal Al Storlie. The order was issued for neighborhoods within a five-block radius because of the chemical content of the smoke. That was extended to one mile after reports of smoke had come from residents in homes behind Cub Foods. The shelter in place order was initially communicated through the City of Hastings notification system via the Everbridge app with subsequent reports going out via local media’s social media channels, including the Facebook live videos via the Hastings Journal’s page.
“We did have some ammonia releasing when we got here,” explained Chief John Townsend at a press conference. “We notified the Dakota County Special Operations Team for their hazmat capabilities. They came out, did some monitoring, isolated some valves and stopped any release that we had. Then they also went around to the neighborhoods, checked some neighboring businesses and checked for levels of ammonia and other contaminants and they didn't find anything. Certainly, the residents on the west side of 61 had some smoke smells and things like that. They were advised to shelter in place, you know, shut off their air conditioners, shut their windows and doors, those types of things. Stay as they tolerated, if they couldn't tolerate it, they were asked to move on. Fortunately, the hazmat team was able to mitigate and make sure that those things were safe.”
At one point, the fire was raging through the midsection of the creamery when something inside popped, followed by a very distinctive hiss which caused the flames to billow a solid 20-30 feet above the roof. Shortly after that, crews were able to gain some ground on the fire, but they maintained a defensive mode well into the morning.
“Because of the potential for collapse and eventual collapse of the ceiling, we were in a defensive mode. It may have looked to someone watching as offensive because we are very busy doing that, but what we would call defensive mode, which means we're not putting anybody inside the structure. We were using master streams from ladders and larger streams through the different access ways and try and get a handle on it that way to keep our staff safe,” added Townsend.
Around 1a.m. the fire was being visibly knocked back and becoming smaller. By 2 a.m. the flames were no longer visible from the ground level, but crews stayed overnight with many of the First Responders working in shifts to get brief naps in so they could get back to the fight including crews from the multiple agencies that responded to the mutual aid call.
“They were here all night long, worked through a number of shifts and did a lot of great work for this community. They helped us out as we would do for them if they called us. We are pretty fortunate to have that. We had a large number of agencies at this event. We are thankful for all of them,” said Townsend.
Thankfully, with a total of 11 fire departments, two ambulance teams, four law enforcement groups and Xcel Energy responding to the event, not one person was injured. In the early morning, Kwik Trip brought the entire group breakfast sandwiches and beverages to help keep them hydrated, including sports drinks.
Chief Townsend spoke around 10:45 a.m. and near the end of the press conference, he gave a rundown of the rest of the day for his team.
“Right now, investigators are looking at some spots in the scene, then we will start working on making sure all the hotspots are out, and we'll do what we need to do to do that. Then from there, it's just a matter of making the space safe while the building owner and owners of the place work through getting it taken care of,” he said.
Making it safe meant calling in the DCSO Drone Team to use their thermal camera to look for additional hot spots and then using an excavator to knock down some walls to access the hot spots. The concern was the unique construction in a building that has been around for over 110 years and the materials used in the last century to upgrade and expand the building. It is uncommon in this kind of situation for a fire to rekindle or reignite after the initial fire is out, but it does happen, especially when the combination of old materials, unique combinations of small spaces that are covered up due to expansions and the inability to access those nooks and crannies due to the massive amount of debris in the way.
The crews did a great job of working the building to prevent the chance of a rekindle, but the combination of the above perfect conditions happened and there was a rekindle Saturday afternoon. Around 3:45 p.m., the Journal was notified of the rekindle as there was more smoke seen coming from the creamery which resulted in another trip to the building for the fire department. They placed a mutual aid call to Cottage Grove just in case things grew quickly, but they were able to extinguish everything much quicker than the first blaze. By 4:30 p.m., the situation was under control.
The Thursday morning investigation did lead firefighters to the spot where they believe the fire started but it did not lead them to a cause yet and no official report has been given on either because both are still under investigation. The cause may never be known given the extent of the damage and debris inside the building. Late Thursday afternoon, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms joined the investigation.
As of press time Tuesday morning, no additional information was available from officials, but the city has asked that the emergency notification information be shared. If you are not currently on the emergency list with the city, you can join via this link by downloading the Everbridge app on your phone and then search for the 55033 zip code.
Here is the list of the multiple agencies and companies that assisted with the event.
Hastings Fire Department
Prescott Fire Department
Cottage Grove Fire Department
Saint Paul Park Fire Department
Newport Fire Department
Randolph-Hampton Fire Department
Miesville Fire Department
Inver Grove Heights Fire Department
Rosemount Fire Department
Apple Valley Fire Department
Farmington Fire Department
Hastings Police Department
Dakota County Sheriff
Minnesota State Patrol
Dakota County Special Operations Team
Emergency Medical Services
Allina Health EMS River Falls
MHealth Fairview EMS
There are nearly 100 high resolution pictures of the incident and the crews that worked hard to keep Hastings safe on our website, www.hastingsjournal.news. Subscribers to the paper get free access to the website and website only subscriptions are available for those that enjoy digital content.