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Cause of Bentley grain elevator fire still unknown

Fire still smouldering at site of spectacular early morning blaze on Dec. 23.
A fire is still smouldering among the ruins of a Bentley grain elevator that burned to the ground on Dec. 23. The cause of the fire is still unknown. (File photo from Black Press News Services) As of Dec. 28, the fire is still actively burning at the Bentley Grain Elevator site. (Photos by Leah Bousfield/Rimbey Review)

The cause of a Dec. 23 fire that destroyed a grain elevator and local landmark in Bentley remains unknown.

Bentley Fire Chief Ian McLaren said he had no word on whether a cause had been determined.

“It’s a bit of a mystery at this point,” McLaren said on Tuesday, adding investigators may be hindered because the site is still smouldering.

It’s also not clear where the fire started.

“By the time we got there the entire roof section was gone and it was burning right down the middle to the base. So, we don’t know if it started at the bottom and went all the way up or the other way around.”

Firefighters from Bentley and Lacombe were called to the blaze shortly after 1:30 a.m. Nearly two dozen firefighters battled the blaze in frigid conditions.

The fire quickly engulfed the wooden grain elevator and firefighters concentrated on ensuring the blaze did not spread to other buildings nearby.

The elevator operated by Healthy Herds Feedmill was completely destroyed and continues to smoulder nearly two weeks after the inferno.

McLaren said the site will likely continue to smoulder until all of the debris and ruined grain can be removed. “There’s just too much heat in there right now.”

McLaren said four or five days ago a trackhoe was brought in to try to dig down into the grain to get at hot spots.

“We tried to get into some of the spots where it seemed to be burning pretty deep. But we couldn’t access everything just because of the debris and ultimately it’s very hot to wade down deep.

“Whenever something flares up or actually cataches where it’s actively burning we’ll go out there and put it out, which we have done most days since the fire.”

Firefighters did not have to go there on Monday and they checked it out on Tuesday but it was not necessary to call in any firefighters.

Lacombe County Fire Chief Drayton Bussiere said the elevator was about two-thirds full of grain when the fire started.

“Fires of that size are challenging to get fully extinguished and sometimes we run into problems with fires at the bottom of the pile and smouldering through and things like that.

“But we seem to have gotten most of that under control now. As far as cleanup goes, that’s really up to the owners and insurance and those sorts of things.”

Bussiere also confirmed a cause had yet to be determined.

Health Herds’ website says the family-run operation has been in business for more than 22 years. It specializes in producing healthy feed rations without the use of chemicals, medications, hormones or animal by-products.

For Bentley, the fire was a big loss to the community. Besides being a local landmark, the elevator, which was built in the 1970s, was a popular local gathering place for car shows and the side was even used as a makeshift screen for drive-in movie nights.

Mayor Greg Rathjen said the grain elevator acted as a community centre and will be missed. Numerous other residents took to Facebook to voice their sadness of the loss of a “beautiful landmark.”

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A fire is still smouldering among the ruins of a Bentley grain elevator that burned to the ground on Dec. 23. The cause of the fire is still unknown. (File photo from Black Press News Services) The Town of Bentley’s grain elevator was destroyed by a fire early Friday morning. (Contributed photo)