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Montana News

Oct 19, 2010 4:05 PM by KBZK Media Center

Big Timber Potato Factory fire ruled accidental

A weekend fire that destroyed the Potato Factory in Big Timber was accidentally set when a an upper cutter on a metal lathe failed, causing heat and sparks to ignite the lathe's oil sump, authorities announced Tuesday.

"The lathe was in a semi-trailer alongside the main building. When the building owner left the site to use a nearby phone to call 911, he left the door to the trailer open as well as one overhead door which led into the main building. The open doors created a more oxygen rich environment that allowed the fire to spread quickly and be drawn into the main building before firefighters arrived," the Sweet Grass County public information officer wrote in a news release.

(Viewer-submitted photo by Kurt Blomback)

The investigation was handled by the Sweet Grass County Sheriff's Office in cooperation with the Big Timber Volunteer Fire Department. The state fire marshal's office and a representative with the US Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) assisted.

No criminal charges are pending, and the Sweet Grass County Sheriff's Office turned the building over to the owner and the responsible insurance company on Monday afternoon.

Big Timber Volunteer Fire Department responded at around 7 a.m. Saturday to a structure fire at 101 Centennial Drive in Big Timber. By the time firefighters arrived on scene, the fire had spread to an adjacent building, according to a news release from Sweet Grass County Disaster and Emergency Services. Firefighters from Melville also responded as well as Sweet Grass County Ambulance.

Firefighters were able to contain the blaze to the Potato Factory property, but smoke could be smelled throughout town. The sheriff's office blocked off areas east of the intersections of Third Street and Bridge Street and closed Centennial Drive at Highway 10.

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