This article has been reprinted with permission from “Post Fire Grain Issues,” a white paper written by Nationwide.
The grain industry has experienced an increase in grain fires over the past few years. This increase can be attributed to one or more of the following:
Attention can shift to moving the grain and separating the undamaged and damaged grain once the fire is under control and the site is deemed safe by local authorities. Often, the best we can hope for is to lessen the amount of the discount, have something we can sell for salvage or a safe and bendable material to be added back when marketed.
The grain fire is not under control, however, until the grain is moved from the structure.
There is some overlap, but mainly four variations of grain remain after a grain fire:
1. Heavy-burn grain – dark, hard chunks: These chunks need to be screened from the removed grain to get out the hot chunks. This is where the heat and fire are generated. The trick is removing the dark, hot chunks without damaging or co-mingling further the grain that is left.
The issue we see is that it only takes a small amount of black, hard, smoking chunks to contaminate the remaining grain in the structure. This means decent-quality grain now has smoke smell or can be classified as having commercially objectionable foreign odors (COFO), and there could be heavy discounts or even rejections by receivers for the COFO-damaged grain. The key point here is to try to remove the worst grain first, but this is easier said than done.
2. Damaged grain with “salt and pepper” look: Burnt kernels are co-mingled with undamaged grain. In this instance, it’s difficult to remove the burnt kernels, although one would have to consider the option of continued screening to minimize market loss.
3. COFO: Good- or previous-condition corn that has a smell due to being in the same structure with the fire. This grain needs to be graded and stored so as not to contaminate other grain, while preserving any value it has. Aeration may help make a blendable product.
4. No damage: Grain pulled, drained, loaded-out from the periphery of structure with little or no damage. This grain usually can be moved to a regular market or stored, depending on what is available. There might be slight COFO or odor issues, but discounts such that additional measures are not efficient or cost effective.
A big factor in all of this is where to put grain with varying degrees of damage. Not much of an issue in smaller structures. There could be 100,000 to 1,000,000 bushels in larger bins and flats.
Cost of additional handling versus improved discounts is a significant consideration. What would the net gain of all the additional handle and storage be?
Even heavily damaged grain from fire could have some value when properly handled.
Salvage and insurance claims teams can help find and negotiate markets. For example:
Experts have the knowledge in these local markets or feeders large enough to handle large quantities of damaged grain.
Blending opportunities. Most large grain operations are blending grain. Not all of one crop or storage year is of equal quality. Large grain operations make money by blending off the poorer quality grain within grading tolerance as they ship by truck or rail.
There always are tolerances driven by the grade on shipped corn. Good blending operations do this in the normal course of business, and this practice should be explored in depth.
In some cases, paying additional transportation costs to move damaged grain to a better blending facility is cost effective.
In markets where available, river terminals may be an option. Large river terminals are willing to blend grain. The benefit here is the larger volumes those terminals can receive. The downsides are the potentially unfavorable location and freight costs.
The main issue is how long damaged grain will keep after being put in piles. The weather and the time of year are major factors. Some sort of temperature monitoring and aeration systems are needed to maintain grain quality.
Piles have potential for substantial additional cost on put down and pick up, as well as additional waste.
Any structure where there is a serious grain fire must be thoroughly inspected by a qualified contractor before being put back in service. Often, additional structural issues are revealed when removing the grain. Structural and non-structural components often are cut or removed to gain access to the fire and grain. Heat from the fire also can weaken supports and cause distortion of beams. Heat will spall concrete and weaken foundations. Significant problems may require an engineering assessment and inspection to help determine the extent of damage and repairability of the structure.
In markets where available, river terminals may be an option. Large river terminals are willing to blend grain. The benefit here is the larger volumes those terminals can receive.
Smoke rings along the interior of bins provide an accurate depiction of where the grain level was at the time of the fire. Most steel bins can be put back into use with proper repairs.
The bottom sections of the interior bin stiffeners should be replaced if they were cut to provide loader access. In addition, bottom sections of the stiffeners on each side of any loader door should be replaced.
Bin wall sheeting at any loader door access and at the drainage hole should be replaced. Existing fasteners for connecting those sheets should be replaced due to the possibility they may have been overloaded during the unloading process.
Bin wall sheeting with discoloration due to heat damage should be replaced. Heat can damage bolt seal washers and wall sheet sealant that will need to be replaced to avoid future water leaks.
Aeration floors should be inspected, and the damaged floor sections should be replaced. Deformed sections of interior ladders should be replaced.
There could be additional electrical inspection necessary, as well as damage to temperature cables and roof exhaust fans. Bin interiors will need to be cleaned to remove soot, smoke, and resin residue from interior and exterior surfaces. This is commonly done by media-blasting the affected areas. Typically, the roof interior and upper areas are most affected by fire residue, but damage can be done at all levels, including the floor.
After repairs. Initial filling of the bin after repairs should be observed by plant personnel so that if any deformations or movement is detected, the bin can be emptied immediately. Regular monitoring of the bin should take place after the initial fill so that changes in bin condition can be identified early.
In non-bunkered or lined buildings, check for evidence of compression failure of the webs and bottom flanges of the main beams at column support locations (many times deformed by heavy equipment used to remove grain or heat). Inspect for evidence of any damage to the roof. Structurally weaker components – such as the purlins of covering, roof cladding (original metal panels), or wall cladding – often are also damaged by heat or grain removal equipment.
If fires are intense enough, the structural members can permanently deform. Warping can occur during firefighting operations if water is sprayed on heated
1. Not checking the bin every week or two.
2. Not properly coring the bin or not coring it soon enough.
3. Dumping poor-quality grain or wet grain back in bin after coring.
4. No temperature or carbon dioxide monitoring systems.
5. Grain flat storage tends to be where some of the worst grain is stored. The poorer-quality grain should be the first moved to market.
6. Grain owner tries to handle serious problems themselves and are unsuccessful.
7. Late reporting of claim after the insured party tries to handle themselves, and the salvage company is not brought in soon enough.
8. Fire department use of excessive water on the grain or use of foam that is not environmentally friendly
Varying conditions of grain are found as it is removed from the structure. A strategy is needed to optimize the value of what is left. This process should involve the insurance company and an expert salvage operation. The use of specialized equipment will segregate the grain. Where to store the segregated grain is another concern that will need to be addressed. Various screener methods ate often used first and are effective.
Reprinted in November/December Grain Journal 2020
View this feature and more in the Grain Journal November December 2020 magazine.