Saskatchewan

Farmer's canola bin bursts into flames, 1,600 bushels destroyed

In more than 40 years in the farming business, Jim Shirley has never experienced anything like it. Last week, his canola bin went up in flames, destroying 1,600 bushels of the oilseed.

Jim Shirley farms near Kelvington, Sask.

Jim Shirley's canola bin burst into flames when they were trying to move the smoking bin off a pile of canola. (Jim Shirley)

In more than 40 years in the farming business, Jim Shirley has never experienced anything like it. Last week, his canola bin went up in flames, destroying 1,600 bushels of the oilseed.

Shirley farms near Kelvington, Sask. A neighbour alerted him to a fire in one of his bins, about three kilometres away from his house.

When he got there, a young man was there and had already called the fire department after spotting the smoke and flames.

Jim Shirley found a canola bin smoking and charred after a neighbour spotted fire from his bin yard. (Jim Shirley)

"The fan and the heater was burnt off the bin. There were flames shooting out the top of the vent," he said.

"The fire did start in the bottom of the cone someplace."

Fighting the fire

Once the firefighters arrived, Shirley worked with them to stop the fire and do as much damage control as possible.

"We couldn't get [the fire] out all the way. We could stop it, but it just kept flaring up on us," he said.

"We had to get the canola out of the bin to stop the fire."

Canola oil was also pouring out of the bottom of the bin towards the barn just a few metres away.

Shirley said they used a screw conveyer to transport the canola out of the bin faster, and cut some holes in the hopper (the funnel shaped receptacle at the bottom of the bin) to drain the canola out. There were about 100 bushels left at the bottom in the cone.

I'm surprised it still looks like a bin after it got all hot there, I thought it would just crumple.- Jim Shirley

They decided to pull the bin off the pile of canola so it wouldn't light up too, because there was grain all around the bottom of the bin.

Using Shirley's tractor, they pulled the hopper legs off the bin. When they almost had the bin off the pile, the remaining 100 bushels in the bin erupted in flames. 

"I'm surprised it still looks like a bin after it got all hot there, I thought it would just crumple," said Shirley.

Jim Shirley's canola bin burst into flames when they were trying to move the smoking bin off a pile of canola. (Jim Shirley)

Shirley said the firefighters worked for about six hours to fight the flames, and smoke was still coming from the toppled bin yesterday.

"They'd throw water at it, and 5 minutes later it'd be going again. I think we put about 2,000 gallons of water on the pile and in the bin."

Storing canola

Shirley said he doesn't know what started the fire.

"I was thinking a bearing on the fan or something threw some sparks in there. I have no idea really," said Shirley. However, in his many years as a farmer, he's learned to not dwell on what went wrong.

"You can't let it bother you, it would drive you crazy I think."

"My dad lost a canola bin 40 years ago. It was a big deal, because nothing cost so much back then, but it was a pile of money in that bin," he said.

"That was pretty hard on him; pretty stressful on him, I remember."

The canola bin a day after the fire. (Jim Shirley)

Shirley estimates his loss to be around $20,000.

Canola can be a problematic crop to store for farmers because of the high oil content. Farmers use fans and heaters to keep it dry if it comes off the field with a high moisture content. The fans and heaters are used to ensure the canola doesn't spoil while it's stored.

"Lots of guys are losing canola around the country because it's heating [and spoiling]," said Shirley.

But Shirley hadn't seen a bin light up like this before.

"It's a terrible thing, and I hope it doesn't happen to anyone else."

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