The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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March 9, 2014

Update: Fire engulfs WW Blacktopping (video)

(Continued)

With the nearest hydrant about 2,000 feet away, a water line was stretched the length of more than two football fields along Industrial Road and down the long driveway leading to the 21-acre site. Even with that hose providing 3,000 gallons per minute, a steady stream of tanker trucks entered and left the site — emptying their contents into the fabric reservoir that supplied additional water to the multiple hoses dousing the building.

Two Mankato firefighters in the bucket of the department's ladder tower truck, who intermittently disappeared in clouds of smoke when winds shifted to the west, dumped water from above and at least three other crews attacked the fire from hoses on the ground. Explosions, presumably from construction equipment fuel tanks or acetylene tanks, were heard in the initial hour of firefighting.

By 2:55 p.m., the heat of the fire reached the front of the building, home to a 2,100-square-foot office, and the attached letters "WW BLACKTOPPING" dropped, one by one, from the front wall to the ground. A few minutes later, flames sprouted from the roof line and by 3:20 a backhoe was ripping gaping holes in the western wall of the attached 10,000-square-foot shop building to allow the flames inside to be sprayed.

At the end of a long harsh winter, weather conditions were reasonable for fighting the fire with temperatures in the 40s and winds of less than 20 mph. But the piles of snow meant that law enforcement officers had to scramble to locate and clear the nearest hydrant.

"We were able to find it before they needed it," Wersal said.

The property, located in Lime Township, has been considered for possible annexation, according to Mankato city records, "but the cost of extending utilities to the area continues to be prohibitive."

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