Oronoco fire, Watson Recycling

Smoke could be seen for miles Monday from a fire at Watson Recycling on 81st Street NW. Firefighters from Rochester, Pine Island and Oronoco responded.

ORONOCO — Watson Recycling will be able to "operate just fine," despite the loss of a large storage building in a fire Monday that sent black smoke billowing north of Rochester.

"We did lose a building," said CEO and co-owner Jeremiah Watson, "but it's not an absolutely essential part of our operation. We use it to prep vehicles that we've already purchased from the public, prepare them by removing fluids and taking moving parts off so they can be shredded."

The fire broke out about 1 p.m.; it was mostly contained by about 3:15 p.m. Firefighters from Oronoco, Pine Island and Rochester responded to the scene at 3584 81st St. N.W.

Though it's unclear what may have sparked the blaze, Watson said he believed employees in the vehicle-dismantling building were removing fluids from one of the vehicles when it caught on fire.

"We're still trying to iron out what exactly happened," he said, "but nobody was injured, so we're thankful for that." No damage estimate was available Monday afternoon.

A third-generation family-owned company, Watson Recycling specializes in junk car recycling, in addition to purchasing scrap metal, farm equipment, aluminum cans, copper, stainless steel, brass and other metals.

It'll be business as usual as soon as possible, according to Watson.

"We can operate just fine," he said Monday afternoon. "The only problem right now is the power is shut off to most of the outbuildings. Once they determine there's no damage to any of the transformers or main electrical, we'll be just fine."

The 12-acre site presented a few problems for fire crews, thanks to the amount of recyclable material in the area.

"To tell you the truth, I thought they'd just let (the building) burn," Watson said, "because once it got going it was really going — but they jumped right into it and did a great job."

The business will "certainly" replace the lost structure, he said.

"We need it; we'll have to get that part of our operation going again," Watson said. In the meantime, "we'll have to figure out a temporary solution, but it'll have to be rebuilt."

A mobile home park lies about a half-mile north of the site; two businesses and U.S. 52 are about a half-mile to the west. Monday's light winds were out of the west.

"The wind was actually going the right direction, too, we can be thankful for that," Watson said.

What's your reaction?