Adell residents return home after explosions at Sheboygan County co-op

Damage estimated at $500K; no chemicals released; 1 minor injury

Written by Eric Litke Gannett Wisconsin Media

ADELL — A fire this morning at Adell Co-op sparked a “series of explosions” and forced village residents to evacuate over fears that hazardous chemicals at the plant could be released into the air, officials said.

About 200 firefighters from 15 area departments responded to the scene, where agronomy buildings on the northwest end of the co-op complex were destroyed by fire. The co-op, 607 Mill St., was unoccupied at the time, and no deaths or serious injuries have been reported.

“To the best of our knowledge, there have been no injuries other than an ankle injury to a firefighter,” said Capt. Dave Adams of the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department, noting the firefighter was taken to an Ozaukee County hospital.

Adell Fire Chief  Will Schneider went echoed comments from many other officials in saying the fire “definitely could have been worse.” The amount of chemicals on hand was far less than at other times of year, and the chemicals there were not released into the air as authorities feared when ordering the evacuation.

The co-op general manager, Jerry Leick, said the damage will be more than $500,000. He said about 10 of the 25 current employees worked in the area affected by the fire.

The fire was reported at 3:15 a.m. by an employee at the neighboring Adell Whey Co., and additional reports at 3:24 a.m. said the building was fully engulfed and several explosions were heard, said sheriff’s Lt. Jim Risseeuw. The village was ordered evacuated at 3:31 a.m., and Village President Andy Schmidt said about half of the village’s 500 residents did so.

The fire also cut off all power in the village for several hours, so authorities were unable to sound an emergency siren as the sheriff’s department went door-to-door asking residents to evacuate.

Those with no other place to go were sent to Random Lake High School, and about 75 people were there as of 6 a.m. They were sent back home about 6:30 a.m. when the evacuation order was lifted.

Laura Garcia, 41, of Adell, was among the 50 or so families that gathered at the Adell Mini Mart on the west side of the village before authorities sent them farther away. Her husband, a firefighter, had been called to the scene.

“I took the dog out and looked down there and saw the smoke. I have relatives down there, but everyone was safe,” she said.

Garcia said the co-op fire is a big blow for the village.

“I’m sad for the co-op, because it was a big part of Adell,” she said. “I’m sad for what they lost, to lose all that so fast. There’s a lot of people employed there from here and the surrounding communities. It’s pretty sad, especially manufacturing jobs. It’s not good.

“I’m just glad nobody got hurt.”

Leick said the exploding sounds came from a pair of 120-gallon propane tanks that were used to heat the agronomy office. The tanks did not explode but functioned as designed, releasing propane through a valve, causing a giant flame but reducing the pressure.

“It was very bad (looking), very scary if you’re out there fighting the fire,” Leick said. Leick said the primary concern at this point is environmental contamination from various chemicals stored at the plant. He said firefighters damned up two drainage pipes leading away from the plant and will be vacuuming up runoff from the fire.

Air quality readings have shown no unsafe contamination levels, but additional air, water and soil testing will be done in the days and weeks to come. Leick said firefighters were trying to use as little water as possible to limit runoff.

Responding agencies include the American Red Cross, the Sheboygan County Public Health Department, the Sheboygan County Hazardous Materials Team and the Fire Investigative Unit. Fire departments on scene included Adell, Random Lake, Waldo, Silver Creek, Oostburg, Cascade, Batavia, Beechwood, Cedar Grove, Plymouth, the Town of Sheboygan Falls and several Ozaukee County departments.