A week after the fire the remains of the grain elevator were still smoldering and Fire Chief Brad Goldade was expecting it will be a while before the fire will be completely out.
“That won’t stop for a while,” he said. “It’s a big building and all that grain takes forever to burn. They got in there with a high-hoe and they’re stirring it up to get it to burn faster.”
The Prelate Fire Department received a call at 5:48 a.m. on Jan. 31 that the grain elevator was on fire.
“A trucker pulled up there in the evening and he was parked in front of the elevator, waiting to pick up a load of screenings in the morning,” Goldade said. “He was the one that noticed it because he was parked in front. So he got up, started his truck and moved it out of the way and called 911.”
An immediate concern was the parked tank cars on the railway siding near the burning elevator and the volunteer firefighters informed residents of the potentially dangerous situation.
“We got some people, especially on the west end of town, to leave their houses because there were tanker cars up against the elevator,” he said.
“We didn’t know what was in them. So it was just precautionary, because if you don’t know it is better to be safe than sorry. So that was the reason for it, but we did find out that it was asphalt tar in it.”
People were able to return to their homes after a locomotive from Great Sandhills Railway moved the railroad cars away from the burning structure.
“Some people went south of Prelate, just a couple of miles south and watched, but I don’t know where they all went,” he said. “Some just went to the other end of town, and once we had the GSR came with a locomotive and moved the cars, they could go back to their houses.”
The firefighters kept a close watch on the burning structure, but there was little more they could do due to the nature of this fire — a large wooden structure that was about three-quarters full of grain.
“The wind happened to be just right that all the ashes and burning embers didn’t go into town,” he recalled. “So we were lucky that way. The wind was from the right way otherwise, it could have been way worse. It was basically going straight east. So the embers didn’t go right into town. If they were, that could have been bad.”
Goldade is not sure if it will be possible to determine the cause of the fire after the grain has stopped smouldering.
“It’s such a big building and all the wheat buries everything,” he said.
Two steel bins full of grain is standing next to the destroyed elevator. A high-hoe was used a day after the fire to remove some of the smouldering material away from the bins.
“We had a high-hoe come in and try and get some of the ashes and burning embers away from it,” he said. “Hopefully it hasn’t started on fire on the inside.”
A few days later, the process to remove the grain from those bin got under way. On the morning of Feb. 7 a grain vac was used to remove the grain from the bin that was not directly next to the elevator.
The heat from the fire might have caused damage to the grain in the other bin.
“The east one is full of grain and they don’t think it's going to be any good,” he said.
The village of Prelate is located about 12 kilometres east of Leader in southwest Saskatchewan. According to Goldade, the loss of the grain elevator, which was constructed around the mid-1970s, is a real blow for the community.
“You lose your tax dollars and then the two employees — they don’t have a job now,” he said. “When you’re a little town you need your tax dollars to survive and an elevator pays enough taxes. It definitely helps your town. Now we’re going to lose that. So it’s devastating.”
The loss of the elevator is even more significant because it is the third major building in the village to be destroyed in a fire within a period of eight years.
The 97-year-old Prelate Hotel burned to the ground Aug. 10, 2009 and the M & M General Store suffered major damage in a fire April 30, 2012.
“This is terrible,” he said. “Small towns all survive on a couple of things. One is your hotel, one is your store and one is your grain elevator, if they still have one left in town, and all three of ours burnt down over the last few years. Yes, devastating to the town.”
The elevator in Prelate was owned and operated by Paterson Grain as an organic grain facility. At press time, there had not been a response from Paterson Grain to a Prairie Post request for an interview.