Cold Firefighters Battle Flames for More Than Eight Hours

Above: Cape Girardeau F.D. get a closer look.
Above: Cape Girardeau F.D. get a closer look.
Above: Cape Girardeau F.D. investigate silo fire.
Above: Cape Girardeau F.D. investigate silo fire.

(Scott County, MO)-- The coldest weather of the year fell on a bad night for some Southeast Missouri firefighters, who spent hours outside battling a stubborn sawdust fire.

According to firefighters, the blaze started shortly before two o'clock Thursday afternoon inside two silos at the Havco Wood Products plant, just off Interstate-55 in northern Scott County. Havco makes wood laminate flooring.

At ten-thirty Thursday night, the fire was still burning. The original Scott City Fire Department got help and relief from other crews as the hours passed and the temperatures dropped: Cape Girardeau, NBC (New Hamburg-Benton-Commerce), Whitewater, Delta, and Gordonville all pitched in with mutual aid.

From time to time, the silos looked more like volcanoes, as firefighters worked to extinguish the flaming sawdust inside them. To do that, crews had to drop the sawdust from the silos to the ground, and then use a front-end loader to spread the dust out, and extinguish the flames. But once that movement allowed oxygen to get to the fire, it sometimes made for a spectacular show of shooting flames. "We're getting sparks coming out of the bottom, plus all the dust," explained Scott City Fire Chief Jay Cassout. "Anytime you drop sawdust, it's going to bring a lot of dust. So that's what's flashing up. We've got hose teams up there to put that out immediately."

But on a day like Thursday, firefighters weren't merely fighting flames; they were also fighting the bitter cold. Chief Cassout said his fingers were definitely frozen, and he worried about icicles in his mustache. "Everything that's exposed is going to freeze," he told Heartland News. "It doesn't take long. So it is dangerous." Not only were fingers and toes and noses frozen, but water spray hitting the ground created some slick, slippery surfaces. It immediately turned to ice! "Crews can only work maybe fifteen minutes in these temperatures," Cassout explained. "Then we've got to rehab them, warm them up, and put another crew in." The crews certainly seemed to know what they were doing, getting the job done safely, despite the extremes of the icy temperatures and the fiery dust explosions.

As of Thursday night, Cassout still was not sure what caused the blaze. He said there were several small explosions when the fire broke out, which could have been the sound of the sawdust igniting from a nearby boiler room spark. Havco company spokesperson Jill Halpt said the noise could have also been an exhaust fan exploding underneath the silos.

Havco sent employees home on Thursday afternoon, shortly after the fire broke out. Halpt said the plant would be closed on Friday.