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A day after a fire destroyed a Box Elder ammunition plant, black-shirted investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives counted rifles lined up on the concrete lot behind police tape.

Steel panels constituting the former walls of the ballistics manufacturer slumped in twisted ruins. And employees of Ultramax Ammunition stood in stunned silence on a parking lot littered with golden, dented discharged bullets.

"You got to take the Hollywood factor out of it," Pennington County Fire Administration Jerome Harvey said at the scene Wednesday. "The ammo performed as supposed to."

"It's a tragedy, but everyone is safe, and that's the most important thing."

Tuesday's fire at the ammunition plant — and ensuing patter of exploding projectiles — not only chased workers out of the building, but forced a lockdown of nearby schools and the nearby Flying J truck stop. Employees kitty-corner at the Black Hills Visitor Center were also evacuated, and truck drivers to the nearby alcohol distributor had to take different routes to make deliveries.

A dozen agencies responded in fighting the blaze. As an ATF-licensed facility, the federal agency now will coordinate the response.

Calling the risk to the public from projectiles "low," Rapid City Fire Department Lt. Jim Bussell said the risk came from the containers of powder inside the facility.

"The smoke was absolutely one of the main risks associated with the fire yesterday," Bussell said in an email.

A spokeswoman with Rapid City Area Schools also confirmed the lockdown of Rapid Valley Elementary, Valley View Elementary and East Middle School, where school resource officers were concerned about the potential for hazardous, drifting fumes.

"At no time did we feel there was a risk to the schools related to objects flying," Bussell said. 

Fires at ammo factories are not unprecedented. An explosion in 2017 at a sprawling Kansas City army munitions plant killed one employee. In 2014, one employee at a Tennessee ammo factory was killed in an explosion. 

Harvey wanted to dispel online chatter he'd seen about the Ultramax fire, guessing at conspiracy theories.

"There's nothing goofy going on," Harvey said. "The (ATF) has statutory responsibility of this investigation."

Ultramax Ammunition has been in business since 1986. Employees, including one man in a Winchester Rifle T-shirt, declined to comment but stood on site on Wednesday observing the first steps of a fire investigation. Soon, the long cleanup will begin. The cause of the fire is yet unknown.

"They have insurance and are a good community business," Harvey said, adding that he believes the business will do what it can to stay open, albeit in a different, likely temporary structure.

It is still too early for a damage estimate. A volunteer from the Rapid Valley Fire Department was the first on scene yesterday, as he happened to be in the area when dispatch got the call. 

All that remained standing in the rubble was a blackened Conex shed, pimpled with discharge dents, and a sturdy, tan mailbox. 

"If I manufactured those boxes, I'd think you could make some money," Harvey said. As he spoke, wind blew a charred steel scrap off the pile in the direction of the ATF officials, in blue gloves and masks over mouths, who continued to work with the owners to tally up the fire's damage. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Ultramax website simply read, "Our company has experienced a fire. We plan on rising out of the ashes. We will have phone service restored by the Monday the 14th." 

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Education reporter