January 22, 1978: Fire destroys Consolidated grain elevators #4 and #5 on Rice’s Point

Consolidated Elevator Row, circa 1910. (Image: Zenith City Press)

On this day in Duluth in 1978, fire destroyed two grain elevators on Rice’s Point. According to Zenith City Online contributor Dan Turner, “On January 22, 1978, a worker patrolling the plant at 3:30 p.m. discovered a small fire below the wooden floorboards of the 80-year-old elevator #4 and immediately called for help. By the time firemen had arrived, most of the elevator was burning, and the effort shifted to saving elevator #5 and an adjacent ore boat—the Harry L. Allen, a 550-foot long rig carrying thousands of gallons of fuel oil—was wintering adjacent to the elevator. When the firemen saw burning grain through the flaming bins, they feared a grain explosion and pulled back. It was a wise move: at 4:30 p.m., an explosion blew part of the roof off the elevator—the blast spread fire throughout the rest of the building. When wind blew the blaze toward the deck of the Allen, firemen boarded her at immense personal risk. They moved to the blazing rear cabin and doused the flames as the wooden elevator began to rain flaming debris—a mix of burning wood chips and grain—around them. Just as the fire seemed to be contained, conditions at the elevator forced the firemen to evacuate. At 6:30 p.m., a large section of the elevator collapsed onto the Allen, finishing the chances of the boat being rebuilt. Thankfully, there was no secondary explosion, and the elevator fire was contained and allowed to burn out. An annex to #6 was built on the footprint of #5 after the burnt shell of an elevator was removed.” Firefighters stayed on the scene until 8 p.m. the next evening, when the fire finally burned itself out. Meanwhile, thousands of Duluthians came to watch the fire. Cars lined Skyline Parkway and other points on the hillside for a view. State troopers worked to keep traffic moving on the highway, as many drivers slowed to a crawl to watch the fire burn.

6 Responses to January 22, 1978: Fire destroys Consolidated grain elevators #4 and #5 on Rice’s Point

  1. I remember that evening quite well. I was driving home to Duluth from the Twin Cities with my parents and sister. As we grew closer to Duluth we could tell that something was amiss. The dark winter sky was really lit up. When we came over the crest of the Thompson Hill we could see the elevators ablaze. The flames seemed huge! I also remember it was (typically) very cold that night.

  2. Nice job. Brought back forgotten memories even though I was one of those watching from Skyline Parkway. Kudos to the firefighters who work so diligently to keep our city safe, then and now.

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