Fire chief: Sunday blaze causes 'extensive' damage to United Ethanol drying tower

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Shelly Birkelo
Monday, January 13, 2014

MILTON--Ethanol production has been suspended at the United Ethanol plant until damage from a Sunday fire is repaired, a company spokeswoman said.

Damage estimates from Sunday's fire in the grain drying tower are not yet available, but Milton Fire Chief Loren Lippincott called damage "extensive."

It was unclear Monday when ethanol production at the facility would resume.

"No estimate has been confirmed, yet, as to how many days it will take to get ethanol production up and running again," United Ethanol spokeswoman Dori Lichty wrote in an email.

Firefighters arrived at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at the ethanol plant, 1250 Chicago St., and  found the grain drying tower “heavily involved in fire,” Lippincott said.

“The internal extinguishing system had partially controlled the fire, but fire was still visible,” he said.

The fire started in the ring dryer, a piece of equipment that dries distiller's grain, which is a byproduct of ethanol production, United Ethanol said in a prepared statement Monday.

Ethanol and corn oil production had been suspended at the plant but would continue as soon as the plant replaces fire-damaged parts, the company said in a release Monday.

The plant was still loading ethanol, loading distiller's grain and accepting and unloading corn, the company said.

Firefighters from Milton, Janesville, Edgerton, Whitewater, Fort Atkinson and town of Beloit, extinguished the fire. Damage was contained to the four-story metal drying tower, Lippincott said.

They remained on scene until 6:45 p.m., he said.

It wasn't necessary to evacuate employees from a separate area of the facility, Lippincott said, but workers were sent home after the plant was shut down Sunday, he said.

The department responded to a similar fire at the plant once before, Lippincott said.

“This is nothing we haven't experienced before. But this one got bigger because we think there was a mechanical malfunction in the steam extinguisher,” he said.

The Milton Fire Department generally doesn't respond to fires at the ethanol plant because the plants has its own fire-extinguishing system, Lippincott said.

“It never gets to the point where we're generally called,” he said. “But this is the second fire we've been to in that dryer system.”

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