December 11, 2013 - Groveland Twp.- Fires know no boundaries and those who fight fires will rush to help no matter where lines are drawn.
The Fleming barn on fire on Dec. 6. This image was captured within moments of the blaze being discovered. An hour later, all that was left were smoking ruins. (click for larger version)
The brotherhood that is firefighting was in abundant evidence Dec. 6, as three adjoining fire departments worked together to extinguish a massive blaze that destroyed a barn owned by the Fleming family at 445 Ortonville Road.
Groveland Fire Chief Steve McGee said multiple calls came in for the fire, which was initially reported as being in Brandon Township.
"They raced out there (to M-15) and saw the smoke further north," said McGee, of the giant, billowing cloud, which would soon be seen as far south as Pontiac. "We have great mutual aid agreements. Brandon got there first, and Atlas also responded with tankers."
Myra Fleming was at home at the time. Her sons, Rob and Don Fleming, own Fleming Well Drilling and store equipment for the business in the barn. Rob had been working in the roughly 3,600 square-foot barn about a half-hour before with another employee and everything was fine. He was in the house with his mother around 3:45 p.m. when they heard "a huge pop," which they thought might be the trash collector. When they looked outside, flames were shooting out from the south eaves of the barn.
"The sky was black with plumes of smoke," recalled Myra. "It looked like an atom bomb went off."
As they ran outside, Don was pulling into the driveway and Myra's sons began moving vehicles away from the fire as fast as they could.
"He opened the barn and no way—flames were shooting out," said Myra. "We got the vehicles, the well drilling rigs, but not the tools, equipment, and snowmobiles. There were no animals in the barn, except possibly my three cats."
The cats had not shown up as of Wednesday, despite Myra putting food outside for them. Three horses and a cow were out to pasture at the time of the fire and are unharmed.
McGee said the three fire departments used two points of attack on the fire, which was treated as a defensive fire. Knowing the barn would be a total loss, they worked to keep it from spreading to the nearby house and surrounding area. The blaze began on the south side of the barn, in a work area, and several explosions occurred. The fire was fueled by about 700 bales of hay recently brought in to feed the animals for the winter.
Firefighters laid hose up the main driveway and began a relay system where water was pushed from a large pond north of the barn on M-15. In the system, firefighters placed a hard suction hose into the open body of water and used the pump to suck the water and speed it to the fire, roughly 700 feet from the pond. Atlas, Brandon and Groveland tankers all shuttled water back and forth to the site, also using a well at Bedrock Express on M-15, as well as water from Groveland Fire Station #2 on Grange Hall Road.
"We used over 100,000 gallons of water because of all the hay in the barn," said McGee. "It was a longer, hotter fire because of the hay."
He described the weather as a "high pressure day," very cold and a blue sky enabling the smoke to be seen for miles. Wind also fueled the fire. The frigid temperatures and extra hay made it a difficult blaze to fight.
"We have to recycle personnel, keep them warm and not overwork them," said McGee, adding that about 35 firefighters joined in the effort. "This whole region works so well together as a team and everyone has the same goals and objectives—it's nice to have such good neighbors to work with."
The following day, firefighters returned to extinguish some hot spots.
"Pieces of the hay were burning, but it wasn't a safety issue at all," said McGee.
Fire investigators have not yet determined a cause.
Myra Fleming said she now knows the pain of those who have endured a fire and it is heartwrenching. She advises others to "not put all your eggs in one basket," but through this experience, she has retained a deep sense of gratitude. She is thankful for the hard work of the firefighters and for the response of the community as a whole. People have brought hay for her horses and offered her facilities in which to keep the animals as well as the well-drilling vehicles that were saved.
"They did everything they could do. I am absolutely grateful. The house is not burned, and there is no damage from the fire itself. The people have been heartwarming… We will build another place to store our equipment.Fleming Well Drilling has been in business in Ortonville since 1977 and will continue to be."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville