Wood grinder cause of Goshen fire

The Elkhart Township Fire Department has determined the cause of a fire that destroyed a barn Tuesday morning.

Posted on Oct. 30, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Oct. 30, 2013 at 6:32 p.m.

GOSHEN — A fire that destroyed a wood grinding business southwest of Goshen was caused by the company’s machinery, fire officials said.

Ten fire departments were called at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, to Martin Animal Bedding, 21918 S.R. 119, on reports of a fire.

Fire crews remained on scene for more than seven hours, battling the blaze and then cleaning the location while they searched for hot spots.

Doug Gadson, fire investigator with Elkhart Township Fire Department, said he thinks some residue in the wood grinder had been smoldering until it finally ignited when it got enough oxygen.

The fire burned through hydraulic hoses and other parts of the machine, starting the fire. Gadson said anything could have caused the spark that left residue smoldering, including a nail that went through the machine.

The wood-grinder had not been used since Monday afternoon, Fire Chief Ryan Rheinheimer told The Goshen News.

Gadson said the grinder and the building were destroyed. A front-end loader received severe damage from the fire as well.

The grinder was located partially inside the building, on the south side.

This was not the first time the fire department had been called to a fire caused by its wood grinder. Todd Anderson, assistant director of the 911 Communications Center, said over the last five years, there were six calls to the business, all for fires caused by the wood grinder.


Likewise, Martin Animal Bedding — like the wood grinding business in general — has been no stranger to controversy here.

Some neighbors had complained of dust emissions from the operation over the years and excessive hours of operation. Due in part to the complaints, Elkhart County officials actually denied the firm a special permit two years ago allowing it to continue operations at the S.R. 119 site.

That decision by the Elkhart County Board of Zoning Appeals was stayed by Elkhart Superior Court 3 Judge George Biddlecome in late 2011 after company operator Kevin Martin appealed to the court, meaning the wood grinder was allowed to keep operating. Then late in 2012, county officials granted Martin permission to develop a new site for the operation about two miles southwest of the S.R. 119 spot at 65448 C.R. 17, notwithstanding opposition from some.

Absent any other formal dictate, wood grinding operations continued at the S.R. 119 location pending a move to the C.R. 17 spot, according to Chris Godlewski, director of the Elkhart County Planning and Development Department. At any rate, though Martin Animal Bedding had been a sore point for some neighbors, Godlewski said Wednesday that his office hadn’t received any complaints of late.

Martin, contacted by phone Wednesday, declined comment on what comes next. Godlewski, meanwhile, said his office has received no response from Martin on its regular queries about when the firm will move to the C.R. 17 location. Martin Animal Bedding still needs a solid waste processing permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, or IDEM, to operate there and it submitted an application on Sept. 18.


According to Godlewski, Martin Animal Bedding had no fire-suppression system in place at the S.R. 119 location, which is near a few homes on C.R. 36. At the C.R. 17 spot, it’ll have a self-managed system consisting of two large tanks of water, though no sprinkler system, apparently, he said.

The more isolated location, though, ought to minimize potential for damage to other property in the event of a blaze, Godlewski thinks. The nearest home is about a quarter mile away.

Similarly, in seeking permission to relocate to the C.R. 17 spot in late 2012, Martin Animal Bedding reps noted features of the planned facility designed to minimize problems with neighbors. Operations are to be indoors, preventing dust emissions, and the new site is located in a geographic depression, which ought to hinder any dust movement, should it escape.

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