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Fire at Becker recycling plant could last 'several more days,' authorities say

Updated: February 20, 2020 04:00 PM

Authorities say the fire at a recycling plant in Becker that has been burning for more than a day could last several more days.

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'We're not really sure how this started, but we're finding it's very difficult to put out the fire," Becker Police Chief Brent Baloun said.

Firefighters have from as far away as Crosslake, Hutchinson and south of the Twin Cities metro have traveled to the scene to help, hauling tankers of water and contributing to the crews already at the scene.

"You look at the firefighters who are working overnight when it's below zero, we have equipment freezing up, you have to rotate the firefighters more often, get them some food, get them some heat, it takes a lot out of them," Baloun said.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Northern Metals has been told to start collecting air quality samples. The MPCA reports it will check and review those samples, but there are no results yet.

Police urge public to limit time breathing air coming from Becker recycling plant fire

"That is one of the things we are trying to answer for people as quickly as we can, what are we looking at and what does it mean from a public health or public safety standpoint," Baloun said.

The massive smoke cloud can be seen and smelled from miles away. Due to the continued burn, area schools are keeping kids inside their buildings and not letting them outside for recess.

"It is smoke, so we need to stay away from that, that has been one of our advisories to people to get out of the way of the smoke, get in well ventilated areas and if you're having a respiratory problem see a doctor if necessary," Baloun said. 

The Minnesota National Guard's hazardous support team has provided some informational advice about the plume of smoke that darkened the sky Wednesday.

The recycling plant wasn't yet operational. City officials said it was set to start in the next few days.

Northern Metals Chief Operating Officer Scott Helberg released this statement Wednesday: 

A fire was reported at 2:25 a.m. yesterday at Northern Metal's plant at 12432 Energy Drive in Becker. The incident was contained to the plant's feed stock area. The facility is not yet operational. There were no injuries and no damage to buildings or equipment. Northern Metals greatly appreciates the efforts of the responders and thanks them for working to extinguish the fire.

According to the Becker Police Department, a passerby reported seeing the fire at the Northern Metals Recycling Plant at about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. Police said the fire appeared to have started "in a debris pile of crushed up vehicles" in the plant's lot.

Long Lake Fire Department on Wednesday said it and 18 other Twin Cities fire departments worked throughout the night and into Wednesday to put out the stubborn blaze.

No one was hurt in the fire and no structures were damaged.

Chopper footage of Becker recycling plant fire

Officials also said Northern Metals has hired a certified third-party consultant and agreed to perform additional testing on air samples.

Based on the work of the MPCA, Minnesota Departmet of Health and local emergency managers, residents are not being asked to evacuate, but to stay away from the immediate area of the fire. However, anyone with concerns about their health is urged to seek advice from a medical professional, and anyone with respiratory problems is recommended to limit the amount of air they're exposed to.

Police urge public to limit time breathing air coming from Becker recycling plant fire

Authorities said after consultation with the State Fire Marshal's Office, Emergency Management Department, MPCA and MDH, they believe the best course of action is to separate a portion of the burning vehicle stack and let it burn itself out.

A separate and bigger stack of vehicles has been protected in the hopes that it won't burn, and the buildings and main source of power on the property will also be saved. The decision also helps protect firefighters' health.

Authorities said they came to that decision because firefighters' water resources were rapidly depleting, and it means that the resulting fire will be more intense.

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Rebecca Omastiak

Copyright 2020 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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