Report: Fire was accidental

Demolition work has begun on the Coin-tainer building, that was lost to fire in mid-January. A report from the state fire marshal concludes that the fire was accidental. Times photo by Jeffrey Hage

Demolition work has begun on the Coin-tainer building, that was lost to fire in mid-January. A report from the state fire marshal concludes that the fire was accidental.
Times photo by Jeffrey Hage

Fifty times per week for years and years, an employee at Coin-tainer cleaned a printing machine to clear dirty ink jets.
The last time destroyed the Milaca business.
Investigators from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s state fire marshal division has determined that it was that cleaning process that started the Jan. 15 fire that gutted the longtime business at 214 Eighth St. NE in Milaca’s industrial park.
In an investigation report made available to the Times on March 13, a state fire marshal investigator said the cause of the fire appears to be accidental, related to a vapor explosion that occurred while an employee was cleaning an ink jet printer in the production area of the Coin-tainer complex.
A lack of a sprinkler system in the area of where the fire started allowed the fire to spread out of control. In a meeting with Coin-tainer management, the state fire marshal learned that a sprinkler system was located only in the northwest and northeast portions of the building, the report states.
An investigation into the lack of sprinklers revealed that while an addition was being completed to the building in 2005, a sprinkler contractor applied for a variance that would exclude the existing building from needing sprinklers. The variance was denied, but it appears the contractor never installed the required sprinkler system, the report states. The original building was constructed in the late 1980s.
While fighting the fire, firefighters found that a sprinkler system pipe was disconnected in a different part of the building, which hindered fire suppression.
The report provides a look into the fire on the night of Jan. 15, the efforts to fight the fire and the condition afterwards.
The fire was first reported at 9:57 p.m. when the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call from an employee working inside the Coin-tainer facility. The 3-11 p.m. shift was nearly completed, and there were about 12 employees working on the shift.
At some point prior to the fire, one of two operators of the printing machine removed the ink heads from the machine because they had become clogged with ink, the report states.
The machine operator, who had been trained by the machine manufacturer on the cleaning process, took a cleaning chemical called methyl ethyl ketone, or MEK, from a quart container and placed it in a smaller spray bottle. After the machine was dissembled, the cleaning process began.
According to the report, while cleaning, the machine operator saw a flash or spark that was then followed by an ignition. The machine head and a collection bucket were on fire. The operator ran to get a fire extinguisher.
The fire grew larger and moved into a dust collecting system and exploded, the report states.
Other employees in addition to the machine operators attempted to fight the fire with fire extinguishers, but the fire grew too large by this time and they could not put it out. The employees then left the building.
The report states that of all of the employees interviewed by state fire marshal investigators, none of them saw the sprinkler system operating.
A Jan. 21 state fire marshal site visit determined that all interior contents of the building were fire damaged and some of the contents on the east end were burned to an ashen state.
The building partially collapsed, and the structural integrity of the remaining portion of the building was questionable.

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