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Owner: heater malfunction may have sparked elevator fire

Lee Seim stood on Main Street in Baldwin watching firefighters spray water on the old grain elevator where much of the feed for his 150 dairy cows was stored.

"Not a good day," he said ruefully.

At about 4:15 p.m. Thursday, people at east end of the village's Main Street heard an explosion, and then saw flames coming from the office of the former Baldwin Feed & Seed building. Within minutes, the tall wooden structure, which Seim now owns, was engulfed in flames.

Fire departments from neighboring Spring Valley, Glenwood City, River Falls, Hudson, Robert and New Richmond were called to assist three stations of United Fire & Rescue Department in fighting the blaze.

Excess water from the effort was running down the gutters on both sides of Main Street when news reporters arrived on the scene about half an hour after the blaze started.

A crowd of at least one hundred onlookers watched from the periphery.

Seim said he had between 2,000 and 3,000 bushels of corn stored in the old elevator, along with a couple of thousand bushels of oats and other grain. He was using the grain as feed for his dairy herd.

He was afraid that the soybeans and corn in three adjacent metal grain silos also would be ruined by the heat.

Seim said his son had been to the elevator building earlier in the day to grind feed, and had shut off the gas to an overhead heater in the office because they wouldn't be needing it this summer.

He suspected that the fire was somehow related to a heater malfunction or gas leak.

He indicated that someone had seen smoke coming out of the office "and then it was kaboom."

The "kicker" to it all, Seim said, was that he didn't have the old elevator insured.

His farm is northeast of Baldwin, about halfway between Baldwin and Glenwood City.

Les Rens, an 83-year-old Baldwin resident who was among those watching the fire, said he couldn't remember when the elevator wasn't there. He used to grind feed there when he was a young man, he said.