State fire marshal investigating massive blaze at Hastings Creamery

State fire marshal investigating massive blaze at Hastings Creamery

State fire marshal investigating massive blaze at Hastings Creamery

The state fire marshal is investigating what sparked a massive fire at the Hastings Creamery overnight.

The century-old dairy processing plant closed just last month following repeated wastewater violations.

According to the Hastings Fire Department, the fire started around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, with ammonia leaking from a vessel on the side of the building prompting shelter-in-place orders for neighbors.

“It seems kind of hard to understand why a fire would start when it’s not operating,” said Theresa Kusske, who lives nearby.

Sources confirmed to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives joined the investigation into the fire Thursday due to the size and scope of the scene.

“Mixed feelings there. I mean, you lose an iconic business, you lose a dairy processor, so it has all these ripple effects in the local economy, said Matt Lowe, who lives one block away from the creamery. “But also, from what I know, they haven’t exactly been the best neighbor.”

The Metropolitan Council shared photos with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS detailing seven violations at the business dating back to December, including a discharge of 10,000 gallons of whole milk and 5,000 gallons of cream into the sewer system this spring.

“As a result, effective June 4, 2023, we suspended the Creamery’s ability to discharge industrial waste for treatment at the Hastings Wastewater Treatment Plant for a minimum of 30 days,” the Met Council said in a statement. “The suspension order was issued because the creamery discharged a slug of concentrated product that caused interference and operational problems at Hastings Wastewater Treatment Plant in mid-May and other times before that… The release of prohibited materials put the wastewater treatment plant in imminent danger and could compromise the health and safety of the Hastings community.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked if Hastings Creamery ever had its permit reinstated, to which the Met Council replied:

“The Met Council spent several months partnering with the Creamery, the City of Hastings, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to find a solution that supports local milk producers while protecting community water supply. Unfortunately, those efforts ended when the company ceased operations several weeks ago.”

Former creamery employees tell 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they are puzzled by the turn of events.

“Now this? This just seems really kind of weird,” said Bruce Perry. “I worked there 28 years, and I retired just last year. It’s terrible and sad. A lot of people in this town are very sad.”

Hastings Fire Chief John Townsend told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they are still investigating what caused the fire and if it may be suspicious.

He noted the roof collapsed as a result of the fire, causing “significant” damage and leading to challenges in fighting the fire.

“It’s a larger commercial building, which makes it a little more complex,” Townsend said. “Just the building construction and number of additions make confined spaces difficult to access and even more difficult to access when we have unsafe conditions, with the building collapsing in the middle.”

He said crews had to tear down parts of the building Thursday afternoon in order to access hotspots and make sure they were put out.

The state fire marshal’s office told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS it provided resources and guidance to the fire department about the demolition so that the integrity of their investigation would not be breached.

A spokesperson also said there is no specific timeframe on when the investigation will be complete or when an update will be available.