A devastating fire in 2013 marked the beginning of a eight-year-long struggle for Columbia Grain to reestablish its presence in the small town of Craigmont, on the Camas Prairie.

On May 12, 2013, a fire that started in the Hinrichs Trading Co. grain elevator spread to the neighboring Columbia Grain elevators. The three elevators and two maintenance buildings were destroyed. Because of the intensity of the heat and the tin outer covering of the Craigmont elevators, firefighters were forced to just watch it burn.

“For Columbia Grain, it basically took us out of the grain handling business in that community,” said Brian Lorentz, the company’s Pacific Northwest business execution manager.

Approximately 400,000 bushels of storage space were lost, and longtime Columbia Grain customers had no choice but to go to the company’s competitors.

“To get that customer base back once it’s gone is tough,” said Stacey Lorentz, Columbia grain’s elevator manager and Brian’s brother.

The fire cost Columbia Grain $4.3 million, the Lewiston Tribune reported in 2015.

Shortly after the fire, in 2014, a new Craigmont-Winchester rural fire station was built next to the site of the blaze.

Columbia Grain wanted to start building a new facility of its own, but its efforts were hampered by a legal battle to decide whether it could get an insurance settlement. It filed a lawsuit against Hinrichs Trading Co. in 2014, alleging Hinrichs was responsible for the fire.

In 2015, a federal jury in Coeur d’Alene found Hinrichs was not at fault, and no money was paid out to Columbia Grain.

Columbia Grain decided it wanted to forge ahead, despite losing the case. Brian Lorentz said the company’s corporate office chose to invest money in a new Craigmont facility.

In 2019, Columbia grain decided to build a 150,000-bushel bin in Craigmont that is currently in use. This fall, a new seed handling building will also begin operating in an effort to turn Craigmont into a seed distribution center on the Camas Prairie, Brian Lorentz said.

“It’s very, very satisfying,” Brian Lorentz said about the construction of the new buildings. “It’s nice to see something standing there in Craigmont again, rather than a big empty lot”

Both Brian and Stacey Lorentz said the company appreciates the community’s support through the past eight years as it worked to rebuild.

“Nothing ever comes easy, and it’s been a constant struggle to get everything in place,” Stacey Lorentz said.

At the end of that struggle, though, is something he said he believes benefits the community.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s been very rewarding,” he said.

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.