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Thirteen crews called in to control Peterbilt fire in Black Hawk

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When Roy Kottwitz arrived at the Allstate Peterbilt truck sales and service building in Black Hawk early Tuesday morning, thick flames were already jutting out from the center of the building.

It was about 2:45 a.m., and with no fire hydrants present, Kottwitz and other fire officials knew they had a unique firefighting challenge on their hands.

Kottwitz, a Piedmont Fire Department operations officer, called for extra resources, and at one point 13 crews from across the region were shuttling in 2,000 gallons of water per minute. Crews tried their best to isolate the blaze and hold it to the middle of the building even as explosions rocked the inside of the structure. 

"Given the fire conditions upon our arrival I think we did a pretty good job with it," said Kottwitz as he looked onto what is left of the now blackened shell of a building. No one was injured in the fire, although three vehicles were burned. 

Because the building is so large and because of the type of equipment in the building, the blaze grew very large, Kottwitz said. A fuel tanker truck appeared to be inside the building during the blaze. 

Crews also heard at least three explosions inside the building caused from material in the building, although Kottwitz said he is unsure exactly what that was from.

"It wasn't a huge, earth-shattering explosion, but it was the stuff inside igniting," he said. "It could have been anything from a can of spray paint to batteries."

The Black Hawk company employs 20 people, said Lee Olderbak, director of service for Peterbilt in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Peterbilt will pay the displaced employees 40 hours a week, and the company will try to find work for them in others locations in the Dakotas, Olderbak said.

That work may include bringing in a mobile location or trying to find the employees work in the five North Dakota sites. "We're trying to mobilize to do whatever we can," Olderbak said.

As they worked early Tuesday, fire crews took a defensive attack on the fire due to the high heat. Kottwitz said to his knowledge there was no sprinkler system inside the building, and the fire took about three hours to contain. 

Paul Merriman with the State Fire Marshal's office said the investigation is still under review, and he could not say when they will know what caused the fire. 

Kottwitz said some parts of the building may still be salvageable, and some of the office area and many of the metal tools may be salvageable.

Because the building is in the middle of a large gravel parking lot, crews were not concerned about the fire spreading to other buildings in the light industrial area.

The Black Hawk location is one of 19 Peterbilt locations in five states. Allstate Peterbilt specializes in the sales of new Peterbilt heavy and medium duty trucks, new and aftermarket part sales, full service truck bays and emergency road service.

The company is insured and there is a claim open, Olderbak said, and adjusters are expected at the location tomorrow. "Our intention is to be up and running as soon as possible," Olderbak said. "Whether that's at the current location or a temporary location is to be determined."

The crews called in to assist in controlling the fire include the Piedmont Fire Department, North Haines Fire Station, Rapid Valley Fire Station, Ellsworth Fire Department, Whispering Pines Fire Department, State Fire Marshal's Office, Doty Fire Department, Rapid City Fire Station, Box Elder Fire Department, Pennington County Fire Service, The American Red Cross and Johnson Siding Fire Department. 

Contact Emily Niebrugge at 394-8419 or emily.niebrugge@rapidcityjournal.com

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