By CHAD THOMPSON
MANSON – A massive fire that left a K.C. Nielsen John Deere dealership in ruins Sunday hasn’t deterred owner Tony Nielsen and company employees.
“Our customers are going into planting and we need to be ready to support them,” Nielsen said. “That’s why we are reacting so fast.”
As the fire still burned within the estimated 280-foot-by-120-foot structure on Monday afternoon, dozens of employees were busy building walls, hauling rock, and moving supplies to other facilities on the property, 215 S. Eighth St.
“My employees have really pitched in,” Nielsen said. “Everyone has been a big help.”
About 15 people work at the Manson dealership. Employees from other K.C. Nielsen branches also came by to assist.
The dealership plans to be open for business by Wednesday morning, he said.
Parts will be sold out of another building on the property.
“We are putting up walls for offices,” Nielsen said.
The efforts to continue operations began just hours after fire engulfed the main building.
The fire was reported at about 3:37 p.m.
The fire was caused by sparks from an employee using a grinder in the shop area, according to Dave Anderson, Manson assistant fire chief.
“The sparks made their way to a parts cleaner or parts washer is my understanding,” Anderson said. “We ruled it 100 percent accidental.”
Contents of the building included customer tractors and equipment, new lawn and garden equipment, tools, and new parts inventory.
Sales offices were located in the front portion of the building. Parts and equipment that was being repaired were housed in the back.
Anderson was hesitant to provide an assessment on the value of property lost, but he said based on the price of equipment stored in the structure, that number is likely in the millions.
“Between the tractors and combines, which are $200,000 or $300,000 apiece – I think there was nine or 10 in there,” Anderson said. “And I’m sure you have a million dollar building.”
Nielsen, who has owned K.C. Nielsen since 2001, was first notified between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday, he said.
He was about an hour and a half away on business.
When he got there, the building was completely engulfed.
“There was a lot of fire trucks and rescue vehicles – ambulances,” Nielsen said. “Dave Anderson (Manson fire chief) was the first guy I talked to.”
Firefighters from 11 volunteer departments responded, including Manson, Lohrville, Rockwell City, Fonda, Lake City, Palmer, Pomeroy, Knoke, Jolley, Knierim and Lytton.
The hazardous materials response team operated by the Fort Dodge Fire Department was also on scene.
“Mayor Matt Bemrich and (Fort Dodge Fire Chief) Steve Hergenreter were offering any kind of assistance that they could and that’s huge in small town,” Anderson said.
Nielsen appreciated the efforts of first responders.
“It makes you feel really good about our volunteer fire departments,” he said. “We are thankful for all of the people.”
He added, “It was an older building. There was some wind out here yesterday and when that fire gets away, it’s hard to stop.”
Nielsen said a combine shop near the fire-damaged structure was left untouched by the flames.
“The reaction from the fire departments was awesome,” he said.
One firefighter had to have stitches put in his hand after suffering an injury battling the blaze, according to Nielsen.
“He got hit with something after entry,” Anderson said. “But he is home and doing well.
Aside from that, Anderson said others suffered, “normal bumps and bruises.”
“And a few of us got our pride hurt because the fire got the best of us,” Anderson said. “We put up a fight, but it was a heck of a fire.”
Firefighters continued to monitor the fire on Monday, but are letting it burn out on its own.
Justin Grossnickle, a technician who works at the Manson branch, described the fire as “shocking.”
“You never see something like this happening, but we are just going to get things rolling and come back better than ever.”
Grossnickle was among the employees building walls in the other shop.
“This building here will be parts and sales, and sales offices,” he said. “We are fortunate enough to have these buildings on the property.”
He added, “We spent the morning cleaning out this building.”
Grossnickle said he lives about 5 miles north of the dealership.
When he first heard about the fire, he didn’t believe it.
“I was out doing yardwork and one of my buddies drove by and saw smoke coming out,” Grossnickle said. “When he first told me I thought he was joking with me.”
But when he got in his vehicle to drive to the dealership and saw the smoke, he suspected the worst.
“By the time I got down the road here – I mean, you could see the big black cloud from my acreage,” Grossnickle said. “You just knew it would be a total loss.”
Many of the tools Grossnickle uses were lost in the fire.
“I have 30 to 40 thousand dollars of tools in that shop,” he said. “Not knowing what’s going to happen insurance-wise.”
Still, Grossnickle remains optimistic.
“We’ll get through it,” he said. “Day by day.”
Nielsen credited his employees for taking the loss in stride.
“My employees have been awesome,” Nielsen said. “That’s one of the reasons we will open for business on Wednesday morning – probably by tomorrow afternoon. Phones and computers will be here yet today, which is amazing.”
He added, “A lot of people have offered their help. It’s small town Iowa – that’s what it’s about.”
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