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Evidence of explosion at house fire

by CJ Carnacchio

May 11, 2011

On Friday afternoon, a devastating fire consumed this 6,230-square-foot home on Man-A-Lee Lane, a private road north of Indian Lake Road, in Oxford Township. Fortunately, the massive house was vacant. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
What was once advertised as a "retreat in the country, just minutes from shopping and amenities" is now a collection of charred and crumbling ruins thanks to a devastating fire and possible explosion.

Located at 1897 Man-A-Lee Lane in Oxford Twp., a 6,230-square-foot luxury home was consumed by flames late Friday afternoon.

The cause of the blaze is undetermined and currently under investigation.

"It's going to be a couple weeks," said Det. Chip Schultz, of the Oakland County Sheriff's Fire Investigations Unit.

Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz indicated there was evidence at the scene that suggested some type of an explosion took place inside the home. This was based on "the debris field in back of the house."

"The doorwalls and windows were blown out approximately 25 feet from the house in two different areas," he said.

Whether the fire caused an explosion or an explosion caused the fire hasn't been determined at this point, according to Scholz.

When asked if he thought there had been an explosion in the home, OCSD Det. Schultz replied, "That's a good possibility."

The possibility of a natural gas-related explosion is being investigated and has not been ruled out, according to Scholz.

"There was no leak on the outside of the building definitely not," the chief said. "But there's nothing to say that somebody didn't open a valve, or anything like that, on the inside."

Built in 1994, the house, which sat on 3.3 acres just north of Indian Lake Road, has been vacant for a while. "There was absolutely nothing in the house," Scholz said. "No furnishings of any kind."

Scholz said he was told the home was owned by some investors who were trying to "flip it." A sale flyer indicated the house's price had just been reduced to $574,900.

It certainly was a dream home with its 2,000-square-foot finished walkout basement, three-car attached garage plus two-car garage, gourmet kitchen with granite countertops, two-story stone fireplace, six bedrooms, five-and-a-half bathrooms, in-ground swimming pool and large pool house, gazebo, koi pond and waterfall.

Oxford received the fire call at 4:21 p.m.

"The first truck on the scene was there in like five minutes," Scholz said.

Due to the extent of the fire, the chief said there was no way to save the house.

"There was so much fire throughout the entire thing when we got there; there was no real way for us to even try to make an attack on the inside," he said. "It was already through the roof and collapse was imminent. The garage collapsed probably not even four-five minutes after we got there."

"There was no way I was going to put anybody in danger," Scholz noted.

While the center of the house collapsed because it was completely consumed by fire, the north and south two-story wings are still standing because firefighters "aggressively attacked" them from the outside with a ton of water, according to Scholz.

Based on the damage, Scholz said "everything is pointing to the center of the house" as the place where the fire originated.

Obtaining enough water to fight the fire presented some challenges given there are no hydrants in that rural area.

Oxford firefighters began their assault by tapping into a 10,000-gallon underground storage tank owned by the subdivision's homeowners association. "We drained that right away," Scholz said. After that, Oxford relied on neighboring departments to shuttle water to the scene via their tanker trucks.

Addison and Brandon townships sent two tankers each, while Orion and Oakland townships sent one tanker each. That's in addition to Oxford's two tankers.

"I believe everybody hauled right around five or six loads (of water) each and they're all roughly 2,500 gallons each," Scholz said.

Independence Township also provided mutual aid in the form of sending an ambulance to help cover Oxford's medical calls.

Even though firefighters had the blaze under control in about 60 to 90 minutes, Scholz indicated they stayed on scene until about 10-10:30 p.m. sifting through debris, checking for hot spots.

"There was so much fire throughout the entire thing when we got there; there was no real way for us to even try to make an attack on the inside," he said. "It was already through the roof and collapse was imminent. The garage collapsed probably not even four-five minutes after we got there."

"There was no way I was going to put anybody in danger," Scholz noted.

While the center of the house collapsed because it was completely consumed by fire, the north and south two-story wings are still standing because firefighters "aggressively attacked" them from the outside with a ton of water, according to Scholz.

Based on the damage, Scholz said "everything is pointing to the center of the house" as the place where the fire originated.

Obtaining enough water to fight the fire presented some challenges given there are no hydrants in that rural area.

Oxford firefighters began their assault by tapping into a 10,000-gallon underground storage tank owned by the subdivision's homeowners association. "We drained that right away," Scholz said.

After that, Oxford relied on neighboring departments to shuttle water to the scene via their tanker trucks.

Addison and Brandon townships sent two tankers each, while Orion and Oakland townships sent one tanker each. That's in addition to Oxford's two tankers.

"I believe everybody hauled right around five or six loads (of water) each and they're all roughly 2,500 gallons each," Scholz said.

Independence Township also provided mutual aid in the form of sending an ambulance to help cover Oxford's medical calls.

Even though firefighters had the blaze under control in about 60 to 90 minutes, Scholz indicated they stayed on scene until about 10-10:30 p.m. sifting through debris, checking for hot spots.