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'More than just an elevator': Community pulls together after Forest River fire

FOREST RIVER, N.D. -- Frank Korynta watched from the front of his repair shop late Tuesday afternoon as Forest River Farmers Elevator Co. burned just across the road.

Forest River Elevator
Marty Maendel and Ryan Hoover of the Forest River Hutterite Colony survey the wheat that flowed out of the burned out Forest River Elevator as the structure continues to smolder a day after Tuesday's fire. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

FOREST RIVER, N.D. -- Frank Korynta watched from the front of his repair shop late Tuesday afternoon as Forest River Farmers Elevator Co. burned just across the road.

"It was about 4:45 when I seen smoke coming out of the top," the 92-year-old semi-retired machine mechanic said. "It looked like it was coming from the first annex to the east."

Korynta opened Frank's Repair Shop in 1947. He farmed for about a decade in the 1950s, hauling grain to the elevator, before shifting to the repair business full time.

"It's a great loss to the town," he said. "It's part of history."

Even as the fire continued to smoulder nearly 20 hours later, and officials began to estimate the cause and the damage, local leaders were pulling together to make sure this isn't the end for the business that has been around this Walsh County community for 99 of its 125 years.


"We're going to rebuild," manager Greg Novak said after a meeting this morning of the elevator's board of directors.

The office was being set up in the Forest River Senior Center on Main Street while board members contacted neighbors to make arrangements to store grain this fall.

The goal is to have an elevator built by the harvest of 2012, which also happens to be the year of Forest River's 125th anniversary.

"It's more than just an elevator," board president Greg Paschke said. "We're a full-service business."

Besides handling wheat, corn and soybeans, the elevator provides seed, chemicals and fertilizer, along with custom application, as well as agronomy services.

An estimated 300,000 bushels, mostly wheat, were lost in the fire which also destroyed three annexes, the oldest at least 80 years old, according to Paschke. The others were believed to be built in the 1950s and 1980s.

The elevator still has about 350,000 to 500,000 bushels of storage remaining. It handles about 2 million to 2.5 million bushels annually.

A fire marshal was at the scene Tuesday night, but it's too early to determine the cause of the fire or to estimate the loss, according to Minto fire chief Dave Gerszewski.


"I could see smoke and flames from Minto when we got called out," the fire chief said, "and we're about 12 miles away."

He called for mutual aid from other nearby communities. He said nearly 100 firefighters from 13 fire departments responded.

They worked until after midnight to bring the blaze under control and to protect other bins and nearby buildings in the 20- to 25-mph winds. Area farmers with water tanks also assisted.

"We were hauling water from three different sites," Gerszewski said. "We were running out of water, but we managed to hang on. We did what we had to do. That was one of the biggest fires I've ever seen."

Paschke said he was impressed with the effort, not only from firefighters, but from residents, many of whom provided sandwiches and other snacks to the volunteers.

"It's great to see the community pull together," he said. "We really appreciate how the community pulls together."

Meanwhile, a steady parade of pickups and cars moved slowly past the scene this morning, occupants taking long looks at the damage.

"It's a sad deal, a very sad deal," Walsh County Sheriff Lauren Wild said. "But nobody got hurt, and tin can be replaced."


Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send email to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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