Fire destroys Vergennes grain business, 10 fire departments respond

VERGENNES — An early-morning blaze on Saturday that could be seen for miles around reduced the Vergennes Feed Commodities International Inc. plant on Meigs Road to a pile of smoldering ruins.
The building, essentially a metal shell that covered almost an acre with a small office area in one end, went up quickly. Vergennes Fire Chief Jim Breur said there were combustible materials inside a wide-open space filled with grain bins, conveyor belts, processors, mixers and other equipment.
“It went up just like a torch when it went,” Breur said. “It’s a feed mill, so it’s all grain dust all through the building. It’s all open. And it’s nothing but tin holding it in there, so you get the heat. The grain dust just blows through there.”
Firefighters were alerted at about 5:30 a.m. on Dec. 8. Breur left his home near Lake Champlain moments afterward and already had a good idea fire crews were going to be playing defense.
“When I left my house in West Addison I could see it from there. It was visible from everywhere,” he said.
Vergennes City Clerk Joan Devine lives on nearby Armory Lane and saw the fire before 6 a.m. She described flames reaching a hundred feet or more over the building.
“It lit up the sky,” Devine said.
Breur said there was some wood in the structure, including support posts and framing in the office area. The interior and exterior were total losses, he said, although at least five of the six grain towers survived, and it appears the contents were possibly undamaged.   CREWS FROM 10 fire departments responded to the fire off Meigs Road in Vergennes Saturday morning, and some of them stayed there 10 hours putting the blaze to bed.
Photo courtesy of Peter Kellerman
Two rail cars on nearby sidings were also damaged, one beyond repair, but one only cosmetically, Breur said. Officials also notified Vermont Railway to postpone a regularly scheduled trip until the firefighters could bring the situation under control.
Fortunately, he said, other structures in the neighborhood were not too close to the building, and the roughly three-dozen firefighters and at least two-dozen trucks from 10 area departments were able to protect other buildings from being damaged.
“The other buildings, thank goodness, were quite a distance away. But you still have to contain it and keep going,” Breur said. “It was all defensive. There was nothing offensive in the whole piece because it was too late when we got there.”
Firefighters from Ferrisburgh, Addison, New Haven, Monkton, Charlotte, Shelburne, Bridport, Bristol and Hinesburg came to aid the Vergennes Fire Department on the scene, and there was a firefighting presence on Meigs Road for almost 10 hours. Breur on Monday said the department was planning to continue to keep an eye on the site.
Despite the building’s size the property was assessed at just $140,000, according to Devine, with $111,000 of that due to land value.
The cause of the fire is not yet known, although Breur believes it probably started in the building’s north end, near the silos.
“It’s still under investigation,” he said on Monday.

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