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Published September 09, 2011, 09:55 PM

2 Fires Reported at Separate American Crystal Plants

EAST GRAND FORKS, MN (WDAZ-TV) - Firefighters responded to fires at American Crystal Sugar plants in Drayton and East Grand Forks within the last 24 hours.

EAST GRAND FORKS, MN (WDAZ-TV) - Firefighters responded to fires at American Crystal Sugar plants in Drayton and East Grand Forks within the last 24 hours.

It's the start of the pre-pile harvest and two fires broke out in two separate plants.

While locked out union workers say this many fires this early in the harvest is highly unusual, but the EGF fire department says a few fires is pretty common.

Firefighters responded to a pulp dryer fire at American Crystal shortly before 9 a.m. Friday and a similar fire broke out Thursday night at the plant in Drayton.

"It does happen maybe three or four times a year, but for the first day and for the first day of slice, it's probably pretty uncommon for two factories to have fires in the pulp dryer," union worker Mike Nordrum said.

Both union workers and firefighters admit that pulp dryer fires do happen once in a while, but the fire in East Grand Forks was a bit different.

"We had some fire and flames outside the pulp dryer. Not exactly sure what was the cause, some equipment failure, if it was electrical or whatever," East Grand Forks fire department engineer Merle Hoverson said.

"(Do) things like this happen when we're there? Absolutely. But I've never seen anything such a colossal mess as what's occurring today and the truth is, it's not an everyday occurrence," union representative Mark Froemke said.

With sugar beets starting to fill the factories, the replacement workers are dealing with hot juice, steam, and heavy equipment.

Locked out workers say workers inside aren't prepared.

"I've been there for 30 years. Most of my co workers have 20 plus years in there. It's not our first time around the block. We've done this before and we know what we're doing," Nordrum said.

"This is costing the farmers who own the company, it's costing them money for these kind of tragic errors made by Crystal Sugar's management team," Froemke said.

Representatives from American Crystal didn't return calls Friday night.

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