By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Royalton Fire Chief Duane Bursey said it’s the worst fire he’s seen in Royalton since Dixie’s Diner burned about 12 years ago. Three area fire departments responded to a fire at Gene’s Repair on Highway 10 in Royalton, Aug. 9.
Luckily, the four employees inside the shop were able to get out of the building, with one receiving minor burns on his hands.
Owner, Gene Binkley, who is also the assistant fire chief in Royalton, was outside at the time. “He knew to get everything away from the building and make sure everybody stayed out,” Bursey said.
The fire call came in at 3:40 p.m., and five minutes later the Royalton Fire Department responded. Bursey said he was surprised at how quickly the building went up. “When we pulled up on scene, the roof had already fallen in on the shop,” said Bursey. “It was very hot and intense right away.”
In fact, Bursey said temperatures were upward of 1,200 degrees inside.
He believes that is due to the tires and the oils, cleaners and solvents used in the shop. “We had always kind of pre-planned that building, knowing that if something was going to happen, it would happen fast, and it did,” said the fire chief.
Several small explosions, caused by aerosol cans, oil cans rupturing and tires blowing, could be heard, Bursey said. Electrical power went out on a one or two-block area, when wires burned off where they were tied to the building and blew the transformer. Bursey said electricity was out from the Royalton American Legion up along Willow Street.
Adjacent to Gene’s Repair to the north is Lakes Gas, where two large propane tanks sit.
“Mother Nature was with us with the northwest wind,” said Bursey. The fire started on the south and back side of the building, which helped as well.
If the fire had gone the direction of the propane tanks, Bursey said the firefighters would have had to cool the tanks, which do have some protection against the heat. “If they would have gotten hot enough, they would have ruptured,” he said.
Bursey doesn’t know the exact cause of the fire, only that it had to do with one of the vehicles in the building, and that the Fire Marshall ruled it an accident.
Bursey figured 20 Royalton firefighters responded, and when the call went out, seven or eight Little Falls firefighters responded, with the aerial truck, as well as seven or eight firefighters from Rice. Rice firefighters were on the scene of a traffic accident, and were delayed because they had to clear the accident scene first.
Bursey said traffic on Highway 10 was backed up to south of Halfway Crossing, where it was at a crawl sometimes.
The firefighters were able to return to the fire hall 6 1/2 hours later, but checked out hot spots in the area throughout the night.
The Fire Marshall declared the building a total loss. Bursey said the Binkleys (Gene and Holly) were able to salvage some paperwork from the office, but most of that got wet when the roof went through, said Bursey.
Bursey, who has known Gene for 19 years, 15 on the Fire Department, and worked for him part-time four years prior to that, said he had permission to speak for the Binkleys to say that they are planning to rebuild.
“He’s been telling everybody,” said Bursey. “He’s just waiting for the insurance to come through and would like a quick turnaround so he can open up again.”
Bursey said he was grateful for all the help. “Thanks to all the departments that came down to help us, and that aerial truck from Little Falls was appreciated, it’s a nice tool,” he said. “Also to all the businesses and citizens who donated sandwiches, pizzas and water. They showed up right away; it was one less thing we had to think about.”