Becker recycling plant fire burns for 3rd day

Smoke billows over a pile of ice-covered cars.
Water used to fight the fire at Northern Metal Recycling in Becker, Minn. quickly turned to ice which created a barrier making it more challenging to extinguish the flames. Photographed on Thursday.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

Updated: 6:43 p.m.

Firefighters battled a stubborn fire at the Northern Metal Recycling plant in Becker for a third consecutive day Thursday as state pollution officials noted the smoke is diminishing air quality across the region.

The fire was unleashing noxious, billowing smoke and the winds have shifted direction, prompting local school officials to cancel classes for the day.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is urging people with respiratory sensitivities to limit their time outdoors in southeastern Minnesota until the air clears.

“We had some northwest winds over the last couple of days that transported the smoke into the Twin Cities, and it’s bumped the air quality into the yellow or moderate range,” Nick Witcraft, an air quality forecaster with the agency, said Thursday.

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The Becker Police Department posted on Facebook Thursday that “major progress" has been made and that fire crews report the fire is “under control at this point.” Crews were managing smoldering hot spots in the debris pile.

Over 100 fire departments responded to help back up local firefighters' need for water supply in the Sherburne County city about 50 miles northwest of Minneapolis, said Assistant Becker Fire Chief Tom Wark. The crews used heavy equipment to separate a portion of a burning stack of vehicles in hopes that the blaze would eventually die out. The strategy was intended to protect nearby buildings.

“It's been a team effort for the majority of the fire departments in the state,” Wark said.

Authorities said no one has been reported hospitalized because of the fumes and no firefighters have been hurt.

A firefighter aims water down from a fire truck ladder.
Firefighters remained on the scene of a fire that has been burning for more than 24 hours at the Northern Metal Recycling plant, Wednesday in Becker.
David Joles | Star Tribune via AP file

Residents have not been asked to evacuate, but should stay away from the immediate area of the fire.

Becker Police Chief Brent Baloun said the cause of the fire, initially spotted at about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, remained unknown.

Police said that the fire break was “holding its place," and that officials were monitoring air quality. The city requested help from the National Guard, the state Pollution Control Agency and Health Department.

Northern Metal Recycling moved its shredding operation from Minneapolis to Becker last year after the Pollution Control Agency ordered it shut down because of high levels of air pollution and inaccurately recorded pollution.

MPR News reporter Tim Nelson contributed to this report.