State of Emergency over in St. Charles, residents allowed to return home - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

State of Emergency over in St. Charles, residents allowed to return home

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ST. CHARLES (KTTC-DT) -- The "state of emergency" has ended in St. Charles, and residents are being allowed to return to their homes after a huge fire destroyed a poultry processing plant.

Thousands of residents in the community of St. Charles had been evacuated from their homes Friday afternoon because of the dangerous fire at North Star Foods.  Much of the city of 3,600 was cleared after a house-to-house sweep Friday afternoon.  The evacuation order was lifted as of 10:30 a.m. Saturday after firefighters worked overnight to put out hotspots.

As night fell, police and fire commanders were not allowing people back into the area, but were instead urging people to find alternate places to stay for the night.  The Red Cross reported Saturday morning that about 300 people stayed in emergency shelters set up at Lewiston-Altura High School and St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. 

Authorities from Winona and Olmsted Counties used the Emergency Action Notification System to take control over broadcast stations at about 9:15 p.m. to announce that residents in the affected area would not be allowed back to their homes until 12 noon on Saturday.   The time was shortened Saturday morning after things were considered to be under control. 

Mayor Bill Spitzer says the evacuations were a precautionary measure. The fire was threatening tanks of chemicals in the poultry processing plant, and authorities were worried that the tanks could explode. 

NewsCenter's Rachel Wick reported live from the command center near St. Charles at 10 p.m. that it was not true that one of the tanks had exploded earlier in the evening.

City Administrator Nick Koverman says there were about 30,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia in tanks inside the burning building.  Only a few minor injuries were reported in the firefighting effort.

Firefighters from four communities battled the blaze at North Star Foods, a poultry processing facility at 1279 St. Charles Avenue, after the fire was first reported about 10:30 Friday morning.  For hours, tanker trucks raced up and down Highway 14 bringing water to fire crews from nearby communities.

Authorities blocked U.S. 14 and Highway 74 heading into St. Charles, but Mn/DOT re-opened the highways at 10:30 Saturday when the all-clear was declared.  To help coordinate the emergency response, a command post was set up halfway between Dover and St. Charles, and the mobile incident command vehicle from the Rochester Police Department was used to coordinate the response to the emergency.


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