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Huge cucumber operation burns

Brothers vow to rebuild greenhouse

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 
A burned-out shell is all that's left of the commercial cucumber greenhouse at Otterburne after Wednesday's fire.

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JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A burned-out shell is all that's left of the commercial cucumber greenhouse at Otterburne after Wednesday's fire.

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," Trevor Schriemer said, shortly after his release from Steinbach's Bethesda Hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.

The RCMP said in a statement one man was treated for smoke inhalation as a result of the fire in Otterburne, 57 kilometres south of Winnipeg on Highway 59, on Wednesday.

Schriemer beat fire crews to the scene when flames ignited inside a shed at the front of the massive greenhouse, which covers 0.8 hectares.

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

Schriemer said he spent four hours being treated for smoke inhalation after he risked entering the smoke-filled building. He said the threat the greenhouse gas boiler might explode, injuring firefighters, impelled him to enter.

"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," he said.

He said he was the only one on the scene who knew where the emergency shut-off valves were. Meanwhile, firefighters focused on keeping the flames from igniting bags of fertilizer located with equipment at the front the greenhouse.

"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," Schreimer said in an interview from his St. Pierre-Jolys home after his release from hospital.

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

"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," Trevor 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 people jobless.

The brothers are working with their insurance company and plan to reopen, but Trevor Schriemer said it's too early to estimate when that will happen.

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

It was built in 2011 to house a growing operation of about two million cucumbers.

The Schriemer family is well-known in the Winnipeg area for its 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.

The St. Pierre-Jolys RCMP detachment is investigating the fire and had yet to release a damage estimate.

They did not comment on reports they are investigating whether the fire was deliberately set, perhaps as an act of vandalism.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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