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Owners of burned cucumber greenhouse vow to rebuild

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The co-owner of a commercial cucumber greenhouse heavily damaged in an early morning fire says the family plans to rebuild the operation.

"We’re not quitters. We will build bigger and better," said Trevor Schriemer, shortly after he was released from a Steinbach hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.

RCMP said in a statement that one man was treated for smoke inhalation as a result of the commercial greenhouse fire in Otterburne Wednesday.

The St. Pierre-Jolys detachment is investigating the blaze and had yet to release an estimate of damage yesterday.

Nor did RCMP comment on reports they are looking into the possibility the fire was deliberately set, perhaps as an act of vandalism.

The family acknowledged the greenhouse had been recently vandalized and they’d filed a report with the RCMP but in the wake of the fire they refused to speculate the two could be linked.

Schriemer beat fire crews to the scene when flames ignited inside a shed at the front of the massive greenhouse.

It covers two solid acres.

Twenty volunteer firefighters from St. Pierre and St. Malo battled the blaze for nearly four hours before the flames were finally contained shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Otterburne is 57 kilometres south of Winnipeg on Highway 59; St. Pierre Jolys, another 12 kilometres south of that.

Schriemer said he spent four hours being treated for smoke inhalation after he took the risk of entering the smoke-filled building.

What drove him to take the risk was the threat the greenhouse gas boiler might explode, injuring firefighters, he said.

"The first responders were on the scene at that point; it was about four o’clock in the morning and I needed to shut off the gas supply to the boilers," Trevor Schriemer said.

He said he was only one on the scene who knew where the emergency shutoff valves were located.

An separate entrance had been installed around the side the building as a fire safety mechanism when the greenhouse was built a year ago, he said. Inside the door was a room with the valves.

Shutting them down cut off any chance of a gas explosion inside the greenhouse, Schriemer said.

Firefighters, meanwhile, were focused on another front: To keep the flames from igniting bags of fertilizer located with equipment at the front the greenhouse.

Schriemer gave a brief interview from his St. Pierre home after being treated for smoke inhalation at the Bethesda Hospital in Steinbach.

"When I opened the door a big blast of smoke came through and then I had to go through an area of smoke but I did it," he said.

St. Pierre Fire Chief Pat Laroche said there were a lot of tense moments at the fire.

He said authorities were apprehensive the flames could trigger multiple explosions and release noxious gases at the scene.

"What our concern was is there is a lot of fertilizers there and on the side there are fuel tanks. The fire didn’t get to the fuel tanks," Laroche said.

A backhoe moved in after 8 a.m. to remove the shed after the flames were contained.

Schriemer said he and his brother Scott Schriemer, who jointly own the greenhouse, are devastated by the loss.

"It’s a tragedy for our family. My brother and I, we worked our whole lives to set this up," Schriemer said. "Many people are working in our facility and it’s difficult for them when they’re out of work."

The fire left about 20 workers jobless.

The brothers are already working with their insurance company and they plan to reopen but it’s too early to offer any timelines yet, Trevor said.

The massive greenhouse is believed to be worth millions of dollars, but neither brother would discuss dollar figures yesterday.

"It’s worth a significant amount of money," Scott Schriemer said. "It was a considerable investment in the province of Manitoba."

The Otterburne greenhouse was built in 2011 to house a growing operation for about two million cucumbers.

Otterburne is located about 57 kilometres south of Winnipeg, off Highway 59.

The Schriemer family is well known in the Winnipeg area for its history of market gardens.

The brothers’ father opened the first market in St. Norbert, Vic’s Fruit Market, 50 years ago. That market on Pembina Highway is still running.

Scott Schriemer owns Schriemer’s Home and Garden Showplace and Market Garden on McGregor Farm Road in East St. Paul.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 3:47 PM CST: updates with full writethru, changes headline

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