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Stubborn fire caused headaches

A smoldering fire at Dakota Wood Grinding has been a headache for employees at the facility as well as several fire departments since late December. But owner John Guillemette said the flames are finally out and the company is returning to business as normal.

Dakota Wood Grinding chips wood to be used as fuel at the District Energy Power Plant in St. Paul. One of the generators at the plant broke down for seven months and the wood chips started to pile up.

Guillemette said the company stored a large pile at their location off of Clayton Avenue in Coates. Just like a compost pile, the organic material generated heat and sometime on Dec. 29 the pile spontaneously combusted, Guillemette said.

"It's very similar to what used to happen to hay bales in barns back in the day," said Guillemette.

Dakota Wood Grinding staff put water on the fire but it continued to smolder and on Dec. 30 a motorist passing by on Hwy. 52 called the Rosemount Fire Department to report smoke. The fire department responded to the call and put some water on the pile.

Because of the size of the pile, though, firefighters could never fully extinguish it. Fire chief Scott Aker said they responded to the site several more times over the next several weeks. On Jan. 12 fire crews spent more than six hours on the scene fighting the fire. Aker said crews from Farmington, Hastings and Inver Grove Heights fire departments also brought tender trucks to fight the fire. Water had to be hauled in because there is none on site.

Guillemette said since firefighters' last visit his employees have used bulldozers to spread the wood chips out and have finally extinguished the remaining embers. He said the generator has started operating again so they have begun trucking wood chips up to St. Paul to decrease the size of the pile.

Aker said this is the first time crews have been called to the business. He said the fire never posed any real danger, but was a nuisance.

District Energy provides heating and cooling to downtown St. Paul. The plant is fueled by urban wood waste. Guillemette said they collect wood waste from all over the Twin Cities, including from Rosemount.

District Energy produces electricity for Xcel Energy.