Frigid weather wreaks havoc; How people dealt with challenges caused by smoke, fire

by Jim Boyle


Frigid weather was not the cause of two incidents the Elk River Fire Department responded to on Feb. 7 and 8, but similar approaches used to deal with frozen and clogged pipes at an Elk River home and Elk River business are being blamed.

The Elk River Police and Fire departments were called to a home in the 300 block of Morton Avenue shortly after 11 a.m. on Sunday for a report of possible fire in between the walls and floor. An 87-year-old Elk River man was reportedly using a torch of some type in an effort to thaw frozen pipes.

Police arrived to find smoke emanating from wooden flooring and/or the interior walls, that was believed to have caught fire. An officer used a fire extinguisher on embers developing in the flooring to stop the spread of fire as much as possible, according to Elk River Fire Chief Mark Dickinson.

When fire crews arrived Dickinson said they began cutting into the affected areas to get at the hot spots.

Dickinson said some people use flame to address frozen pipes in the winter but pointed out it can quickly lead to dangerous consequences.

Dickinson said the piping in the older home heated up enough to set the wooden basement floor on fire. “The pipes will conduct enough heat to ignite a fire,” the chief said.

Firefighters were able to contain the fire to the between the wall from the basement to the second floor, Dickinson said.

Solidification of grease at restaurant lead to fire call

Elk River Police and Fire were called to Buffalo Wild Wings, 778 Freeport Ave., at 5:24 a.m. Monday for a report of a grease pipe sparking at the business.

The sparking was occurring at back of building and appeared to be inside of the building as well, according the initial report filed by the Elk River Police Department.

The customary practice of extracting grease from fryers for it ultimately to get hauled away got hung up when cold weather is believed to have caused grease in a line to solidify, according to Rick Sabol, president and CEO of Mahoney Environmental, a Joiliet, Illinois-based business and one of the firms restaurant chains use in building and operations of the establishments.

Sabol explained to the Star News that a heat source is used to keep the grease liquefied and at about 100 degrees once it is transferred to a vessel where it stays until it needs to be pumped out and hauled away. That product is then turned into a renewable energy, Sabol added.

He said a subcontractor was used to retrieve and haul the grease as he doesn’t have crews of his own in Minnesota to perform this task. This contractor reportedly used a torch or some sort of heating device in an effort to free the clogged pipe and created sparks and smoke and nearly fire that extended into a storage area of the business and resulted in the ERFD being called in.

Dickinson said the incident was contained to the utility room and there was no actual fire.

Sabol he said he has learned from the subcontractor’s leadership that the approach used to free the pipe of its clog was not a standard operating practice for addressing such clogging issues that can be common. “That’s the best I can make of it,” Sabol said.

The damage did not prevent the restaurant from safely opening on Monday, according to a restaurant manager.

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