By Luke Klink | Ladysmith News

Three area fire departments battled a redi-mix concrete plant structure fire north of Ladysmith on New Year’s Eve, but despite their combined effort the building is a total loss.

The Ladysmith Fire Department responded to a structure fire at 8:20 p.m. on New Year’s Eve at Haas Sons Redi-Mix plant, N6399 Wis. 27, in the Town of Flambeau. They were backed up with additional tankers and manpower from the Bruce and Sheldon fire departments.

Upon their arrival the metal building was completely engulfed, according to Ladysmith Fire Chief Kyle Gibbs.

A responding Rusk County Sheriff’s deputy reported to dispatch “the plant is fully engulfed and there was an explosion.”

Gibbs estimated as many as 30 firefighters responded including three tankers from Ladysmith, and two tankers each from Bruce and Sheldon. The Ladysmith Fire Department ladder truck also was brought to help battle the blaze.

Tanker drivers raced back and forth on the highway, shuttling water from fillsites at the Thornapple River crossing and at Flambeau Avenue.

The structure is considered a total loss along with its contents, Gibbs said. Two Redi-Mix cement trucks and one end loader were inside the structure.

“It was fully engulfed at the time we were called,” Gibbs said. “We have no idea how it started, and we probably won’t be able to tell because it was too extensive of a fire.”

A quarter-mile service drive into the plant had not been plowed at the time of the fire, according to Gibbs. He said this added to the difficulty of getting to the scene as quickly as possible.

“We actually had a couple of firefighters that had to use their trucks with plows on to plow [the driveway] so we could get our trucks in there,” Gibbs said.

The drive also was blocked by a locked gate that had to be cut to access the property.

Plant neighbors reported being without power or heat during the incident.

It was night, which made it difficult for tanker drivers to see as they backed into the site, Gibbs said.

Tanker operators dumped water into temporary holding tanks that supplied pumpers that fed firefighting lines. Water was sprayed at the flames by firefighters below and the ladder truck above.

“It has been a while. It has been a while before we had one with that much water,” Gibbs said.

The fire was called in by a passer-by, but the plant is in a low area and difficult to see from the highway.

“It had been burning a little while before it got called in,” Gibbs said.

Sheldon fire was on scene until about 11:10 p.m. Dec. 31. Bruce fire was on scene until about 12:30 a.m., Jan. 1.

The Ladysmith Fire Department remained on scene until about 12:45 a.m., New Year’s Day.

The cause of the fire is undetermined at this time, according to Gibbs. He said it appears to have started in the north part of the building.

“That is where it looks like the fire was most intensive because the one cement truck was pretty well burned, and I think that was parked in the north end of the building,” Gibbs said.

Foul play is not suspected, Gibbs said.

No one was inside the plant at the time of the fire. No injuries were reported.

“You can always replace a building. As long as no one gets hurt that is the main thing,” Gibbs said.

An owner vows to rebuild and have a new facility up and running by spring.

Co-owner Gary Haas said production should not be affected by the blaze. He estimated the previous plant contained about 2,400 square feet of floor space.

“We plan on having it up and running by the time construction season starts,” Haas said.

Haas said about three employees work at the site in the warmer months but in the winter “not much happens” there. He added insurance adjusters will visit the property this week in an effort to determine the cause of the fire, but noted that may not be possible given the extent of the damage.

“We are going to rebuild the building,” Haas said.

The Rusk County Highway Department was requested to salt, which they did at the highway turnoff into the plant and at the Thornapple River dry hydrant fillsite.

Mutual aid was provided by the Bruce and Sheldon fire departments. Also responding were the Rusk County Sheriffs Department, Ladysmith EMS, Rusk County Highway Department and Russ Thompson Excavating.

The company started and remains based in Thorp. It entered the redi-mix business in 1996 and currently owns plants in Eau Claire, Bloomer, Wilson, Ladysmith and Thorp.