Source: Sherman Publications

Blaze destroys Brandon home
Icy conditions, wind challenge firefighters

by Susan Bromley

January 22, 2014

Brandon Twp.- A couple had a fire blazing in the fireplace of their home at 2400 Kile D Drive at about 3 p.m., Jan. 19, when they heard crackling and a popping noise.

They went outside to investigate and saw smoke pouring from the roof near the chimney.

Firefighters from Brandon, as well as from Atlas, Groveland, Hadley, Independence, Orion and Oxford fire departments, responded. No one was injured.

“When we got there, the fire was already in one attic section and spreading quickly,” said Brandon Fire Chief Dave Kwapis. “The roofline went west to east, with a vent on the west side of the house to vent attic space. What happened was, once it got into that attic, the fire had free rein to travel.”

Fighting the fire presented multiple challenges. The wind was about 12-15 mph and with the house sitting on the top of a hill, was not well blocked from the wind by trees. Two Brandon trucks were able to access the road and begin extinguishing the blaze, but Kwapis said the fire “just took off.” Other responding departments assisted in shuttling water from the Sashabaw Meadows and Clarkston Lakes mobile home parks on Sashabaw Road, as well as from the Long Lake subdivision on M-15, due to no nearby hydrants.

Kile D Drive is also a long and narrow road and with recent weather, the road is in particularly poor condition, with potholes and ice. The water shuttling added to the problems in battling the blaze.

“Road conditions slowed response,” said Kwapis. “When you’re doing a tanker shuttle, you’re slopping water around and adding insult to injury.”

The Road Commission for Oakland County was called to put sand down on the road and arrived about an hour later. Kwapis said the RCOC efforts definitely helped the firefighters and were really appreciated.

“We’ve had extraordinary circumstances this winter— cold weather and vortexes and a lot of people are using alternative heating methods,” said Kwapis. “This year has been such a drastic freeze-thaw cycle, it’s wreaking havoc with the roads and everything else... We needed a lot of water quickly and just weren’t gonna get it. These are circumstances we have to deal with (in a rural area).”

The fire appears to have been caused by a fireplace failure, Kwapis said, starting in or near the chimney and going through the attic area, although exactly what caused it or why will not likely ever be known. Chimney fires are often caused by creosote build-up in the chimney, which should be cleaned twice a year, once at the beginning of the season and once during the middle. The homeowner told the fire chief he keeps good maintenance of the chimney. Kwapis said there may have been a crack or hole in the pipe.

Firefighters cleared the scene around midnight. The home, built in 1994, had estimated damages of more than $300,000 and was a total loss. The home was insured and the couple was staying in a hotel.

“If you have a fireplace, maintenance of the chimney is important, but also a visual inspection of the chimney itself,” said Kwapis. “Some companies have cameras they can send down. Cracks can happen over time... Everyone worked as hard as we could, and unfortunately, luck was not on our side. We really appreciate the cooperation between departments.”