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Pennock, Minn.-area nursery recovering after fire

Susie and Dave Frank say their greenhouse business north of Pennock will be open for business at the end of April despite a fire there Wednesday that destroyed buildings, one of which is pictured in the background, equipment and hundreds of seedlings. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

PENNOCK — With spring edging a little closer and gardeners eager to buy nursery stock, the fire last week at Frank’s Greenhouses north of Pennock couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Rows of hanging potted flowers and hundreds of well-established seedlings that were primed to go on sale at the end of April were destroyed in an intense blaze Wednesday.

Begonias, Gerber daisies, regal geraniums, marigolds and moss roses that had been started from seed were lost. Trays of vegetable seedlings that were recently planted also curled up and died in the penetrating heat.

Although there are 13 other greenhouses at the rural nursery, the cold weather in March meant a large number of plants were grouped in the greenhouse that caught fire.

“Every square inch was filled,” said Susie Frank. “Now every square inch is empty.”

Surprisingly, the fire only damaged the front section of the large plastic-covered hoop greenhouse. Most of the pots and plastic plant markers were untouched. Frank speculates that the heat and smoke killed the plants.

A nearby wood-frame building used for sales and storage was totally destroyed, along with the contents — including three new golf carts, 25 large wagons customers used to cart their plants, flower pots, pallets of potting soil and other tools.

A newer delivery van, with about 31,000 miles on it, was also totally destroyed.

Despite the setback, the Franks, who’ve owned the business for 30 years, aren’t discouraged and say the greenhouses will be full again and ready to open for the season the last weekend of April.

“We’ll figure it out. We’ll survive,” said Dave Frank. “This isn’t our first disaster.”

When Dave Frank discovered the fire around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday he thought that perhaps all would be lost.

He’d been working in a back greenhouse when he said he heard a “boom.” When he went to investigate he saw the front of the greenhouse on fire with flames shooting out.

The way the fire was roaring, Frank said, he feared the blaze would spread to the other greenhouses, his wooden barn and home.

“It didn’t look for a while,” said Frank, who quickly shut off the valve to a 1,000-gallon propane tank and called the Pennock Fire Department.

The contents in the storage area helped fuel the fire, including the tires on the wagons that were popping and “going off like cannons,” Frank said.

The fire was mostly out by Pennock firefighters, who received mutual aid from the Willmar Fire Department, arrived on scene, Pennock Fire Chief Jeff Arends said. However, crews remained on scene until around 8 p.m. to put out hot spots.

The cause of the fire is unknown at this point. Fire investigators were scheduled to be on the site today.

Shortly after the fire was reported relatives arrived on scene to move plants out of greenhouse. But even those rescued early on were wilted and dying.

Electricity was cut to the farm for several hours, which caused the Franks additional concern as the temperature dipped in other greenhouses, Susie Frank said. But two days after the fire, plants and flowers in adjacent greenhouses were verdant and blooming.

After meeting with insurance agents, the Franks quickly moved to Plan B to purchase equipment to get the damaged greenhouse back in operation. The hoops were not damaged and plastic can be reattached.

Although it’s too late to start the nursery stock from seed, Dave Frank said, the Franks intend to purchase plugs that they’ll pot and grow.

The couple, who operate the business with the help of other family members, said they’re eager to clean up the mess and start rebuilding.

“Looks like we’ll have to do some hustling,” Susie Frank said through a good-natured grin. “We’ll be ready.”

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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