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Deer Creek, Wadena firefighters battle sawmill fire

Firefighters from Wadena and Deer Creek responded to a fire Monday morning at a sawmill owned by John Henry Mast. The sawmill is located two miles east of Deer Creek on County Highway 50. A chimney may have been the source of the fire. Photo by Brian Hansel, Pioneer Journal

The Deer Creek and Wadena Fire Departments fought a fire at John Henry Mast's sawmill three miles east of Deer Creek on Monday, in bitterly cold, sub-zero temperatures.

The 40-foot-by-120-foot sawmill was lost in the blaze, which started around 9:39 a.m. and sent a cloud of gray and black smoke rolling across County Highway 50. Firefighters remained at the scene until 2:30 p.m.

The exact cause of the fire was not known, but the Amish sawmill operator said he had started a fire in the wood stove of his shop Monday.

"My guess is that it ignited in the attic and it spread from there," Mast said. "It must have started close to the chimney but we're not sure if the chimney was the cause."

Mast also said he had Styrofoam insulation sprayed inside the walls of the sawmill last fall. It was the insulation, he said, that created most of the smoke.

Firefighters contained the blaze, but could not save the building.

"It was already full engulfed when we got there," Deer Creek Fire Chief Jerry Moen said.

With the roof coming down and a collection of stacked wood inside the mill, Moen said it was dangerous for firemen to try and enter the building.

The Deer Creek Fire Department called the Wadena Fire Department for mutual aid. Wadena trucks traveled eight miles of countryside before reaching the site.

"Deer Creek had it knocked down by the time we got there, but the roof was already down on both ends," Wadena Assistant Fire Chief Dale Haman said.

Haman added that the severity of the weather conditions made firefighting a real challenge.

"The suits get frozen solid and it's hard for the men to move around," Haman said. "When we got back to Wadena one of our truck valves wouldn't even open for a couple of hours."

Mast and his family have been in the sawmill business since 2004. The sawmill is located just west of his farm.

The loss of his sawmill operation comes as a shock to Mast and his family, but he said neighbors were already showing up Monday to help him.

Mast carries insurance on his business operation.

"At this point I am not sure what is salvageable in the shop," Mast said. "I'm just glad that no one was hurt."