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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Firefighters work a fire Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 at a Sandy business.

SANDY — A blowtorch being used to thaw a frozen pipe may have started a two-alarm fire that caused significant damage at a feed plant Monday.

The fire at Fur Breeders Agriculture Co-op, 8550 S. 700 West, started just before noon. The blaze sent a large plume of black smoke into the air that could be seen across the valley.

The owner of a neighboring business said a couple of fire trucks responded to reports of smoke at the plant Monday morning. It wasn't until a couple of hours later that the flames erupted.

There were many pallets, animal feed and packaging materials such as plastic in the building that burned, Sandy Deputy Fire Chief Bruce Cline said.

The feed plant used a refrigeration system as part of the process of making its product, which included use of an ammonia tank.

The plant makes feed for minks, officials said. A line carrying liquid used to help in that process froze. A worker tried to thaw it by using a torch but accidentally started a fire.

About 50 firefighters from Sandy, West Jordan, South Jordan and the Unified Fire Authority responded to the scene. Cline said crews were close to calling a third alarm for the incident.

Firefighters quickly went into a defensive mode after they arrived, meaning they could only fight the fire from the outside of the structure.

"It's a very difficult fire to fight," Cline said.

One problem was the flames had spread to the attic, and there were multiple roofs on the building. Another concern was the large ammonia tank near the structure fire. The tank had a cooling system, however, and was not damaged, Cline said.

Members of the Utah National Guard were used to monitor the air quality in the area to watch for chemicals, he said.

Another problem was the live power lines being in the way of ladder trucks from the fire departments. Power was quickly cut to the area, leaving more than 1,000 Rocky Mountain Power customers in the dark while crews battled the fire.

The building belonged to the same company that was the target of a pipe bombing by animal rights activists in 1997. Six members of the Animal Liberation Front were charged for igniting six pipe bombs at the Fur Breeders Co-op, but at a different building, 8720 S. 700 West. At least two were sentenced to federal prison.

The ALF confirmed in an email it was not responsible for Monday's fire.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com, rpiatt@ksl.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam