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Groveland blaze 'Hottest fire we've had'

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August 18, 2010 - By Susan Bromley

Staff Writer

Groveland Twp.- Spontaneous combustion is believed to be the cause of the most intense fire Groveland Fire Chief Steve McGee has ever seen in the township.

Just after midnight on Aug. 14, several drivers called 9-1-1 to report a fire at I-75 and Grange Hall Road. Township firefighters responded within two minutes to the location of the fire—a gravel pit that is owned by the township, but leased to I-75 Aggregates, Inc.

Upon arrival, firefighters found the corner of a pile of pallets on fire. McGee estimated the area the pallets covered to be 1,000 feet by 1,000 feet and 100 feet high. The first fire officer on the scene decided upon an aggressive offensive attack, but after 1,000 gallons of water were dumped on the fire to no avail, firefighters retreated and went into defensive mode.

"It's the hottest fire we've ever had," said McGee, likening the pallets to a huge pile of kindling. "I've seen larger area fires, but not such an intense fire in such a confined area."

Firefighters from Brandon Township, Springfield, the Village of Holly and the North Oakland County Fire Authority responded to assist. Three fire engines were set up at strategic locations, one to spray a building and fuel tanks close to the pallets, a second to spray heavy excavating equipment and vehicles and a third to spray equipment and another fuel storage tank. The three engines were supplied by 10 tanker trucks that shuttled water from wells around the township.

Firefighters sprayed 1,250 gallons of water per minute for more than five hours, McGee said, using almost 350,000 gallons of water to prevent the fire, which had flames shooting up to 150 feet in the air, from spreading.

Foul play is not suspected. It is believed the fire actually started as spontaneous combustion of a mulch pile adjacent to the pallets. "Mulch is a chemical reaction," explains McGee. "It heats up on its own, creates its own energy and catches fire."

The reaction is similar, he said, to what happens with cut hay when farmers put it away too green and barns catch fire.

Groveland firefighters have responded to fires at the gravel pit leased by I-75 Aggregates four times this year, all caused by spontaneous combustion in the mulch piles. McGee said the owner of the company told him that he had $500,000 invested in the pallets that burned.

Barry Bass, president of I-75 Aggregates as well as Bedrock Express, Ltd., did not return calls for comment.

"What we're doing now is working with the owner to come up with a plan so this never happens again," said McGee.

Some proposed ideas include making the piles smaller or putting an earth berm between the fuel storage tanks and the storage of any mulch.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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