By MIKE CORN
The cause of a fire that destroyed the main building Saturday morning at the Heartland Building Center's truss plant in southeast Hays couldn't be immediately determined by an investigator from the State Fire Marshal's office.
What they were able to determine, according to Ellis County Rural Fire Chief Richard Klaus is the fire started in the southwest part of the building in a break room.
As he talked about the cause, Klaus said firefighters were rolling up hoses getting ready to return to the station.
The truss plant is located at 710 General Custer Road.
The building -- 112-by-200 feet long -- housed Heartland Building Center's floor and roof truss assembly operations, as well as its pre-hung door and custom countertop facilities, according to owner Curt Pfannenstiel. He received the call about the fire at 5:30 a.m. Saturday.
The fire was first reported at 4:40 a.m. Saturday.
The call, apparently made by a passing motorist on U.S. Highway 183, suggested a structure fire in a mobile home park adjacent to the highway.
As a result, the Hays Fire Department responded and found the fire was actually at the truss plant.
"It was totally engulfed," said HFD Capt. Chris Stegman. "When we got here it wasn't through the roof."
The fire department cut down a portion of a wooden fence just north of the buiding to reach a fire hydrant.
"By the time we had our supply line established we already had the roof collapse," Stegman said.
The fence reflects the city limits and the Ellis County Rural Fire Department was notified, which ended up sending multiple units.
Stegman said the first hose used to fight the fire actually was directed at a second adjacent building, which was saved.
The biggest building at the plant was destroyed, with blackened wooden pillars starkly rising up. A massive steel I-beam was severely warped as a result of the heat.
Company 5 Fire Chief Dale Befort said warping the steel beam would have required heat of "several thousand degrees."
Befort said both city and county crews battled the fire during the early morning hours. He said the building was fully engulfed when he arrived at 5:03 a.m.
Trucks with the Hays Fire Department started leaving the scene at about 10:30 a.m. to return to the station.
Stegman said they've already made arrangements to cover both the city of Hays and some calls the rural fire calls.
As firefighters continued to douse hotspots, Pfannestiel watched and made several phone calls.
"It's a very big part of our business," he said.
He's also unsure what the financial loss will ultimately be, although he said they have insurance.
Nine people work at the plant, he said,
"I'm just glad no one got hurt," Pfannenstiel said.
* * *
A video of the fire taken from a camera-equipped helicopter drone can be viewed at bit.ly/1aT9MOl