Flour mill fire probe begins in Freeport; mill probably won't be rebuilt, owner says

Flour mill fire probe begins in Freeport; mill probably won't be rebuilt, owner says Click to Enlarge Photo:

Dec 28, 2011 at 10:46 am

FREEPORT, Minn. (KNSI) - Minnesota state fire marshal investigators Wednesday were expected to begin looking into Tuesday evening's fire that destroyed the historic Swany White flour mill in Freeport, a heritage central Minnesota business that's been a cornerstone of the small town since the 19th century.

Crews from five area fire departments began arriving at the three-story mill on 2nd Street Southeast around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday as smoke and flames enveloped the 114-year-old structure. Within two hours, that century old-business had full collapsed as local residents watched in stunned disbelief.

Longtime Freeport resident Richard Buening said he right across the street from the mill when he looked up to the sounds of approaching fire trucks and emergency crews.

"There was fire coming out of the top of the building, like a little chimney. It was hot and pretty quick. By 6:30, quarter to 7, she was almost completely down," Buening said.

Buening said the loss of Swany White, a fixture in Freeport since 1897, was a painful blow to the city.

"It was tear-jerking. For a lot of people around here, it was pretty rough. It's the oldest building in town and people took it pretty tough. Big old building like that -- once they start going, they go. It went fast," Buening said.

Freeport Mayor Matt Worms said Wednesday said the small town of about 550 had lost both a vibrant business and a local icon.

Swany White was Central Minnesota's only flour mill, producing commercial-grade and organic flours. The building's unique architecture and cultural significance led to its placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Owner Gary Thelen's family bought the mill in 1903 and it was family-run ever since. Thelen and a single employee produced about 12,000 pounds of flour a day at mill before Tuesday's fire. The pair were both reportedly at the mill at the time of the blaze and were able to escape unhurt. No one was injured in the fire.

Thelen did not want to talk about the fire Wednesday, but when asked if he planned to rebuild, he said, "Probably not."

Freeport Fire Department crews were aided by units from Melrose, Albany, Avon and St. Martin to put down the blaze. Firefighters successfully kept the fire from spreading to a surrounding quilt shop, lumber yard and other surrounding homes and businesses.

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