Employees dealing with fire’s aftermath

LINCOLN – Alcona County Road Commission employees were hard at work Wednesday trying to get back to work as the embers of a devastating garage fire still smoldered.

Steel beams that once held up the roof of the county’s maintenance garage looked like melted spiders collapsed over the bodies of charred dump trucks. Concrete blocks that formed the1930s facade spilled all over the ground.

Yet, heavy equipment rumbled through the county’s gates as dump trucks, plows, sweepers and other vehicles arrived on loan from Alpena, Roscommon and other counties so that crews can get ready for winter.

Dennis Wieske, an employee with an emergency radio services company, darted in and out of the commission office. Inside the small brick building, he had organized radios, antennas, cables and white plastic cutting boards on a conference room table.

“The radios are set up on bread boards so they can sit on the passenger seat and be plugged into the cigarette lighter,” Wieske said.

That way, Alcona crews will be able to communicate with each other without drilling holes into any of the loaned vehicles they will be using. Even some of the radios were on loan, including six from Montmorency, he said.

Back outside, Mark Jahnke and Paul Aubin from the Michigan County Road Commission Self Insurance Pool walked around 15,000 square feet of the collapsed structure with Managing Director Jesse Campbell. A fire Saturday night caused more than $4 million in damages.

Occasionally shielding their eyes from the sun the three men pointed out loss after loss.

Jahnke said 75 counties are members of the pool, and his company was trying to determine the cause of the fire. They also were working to get the road commission back on its feet.

Alcona County Sheriff Douglas Atchison said the fire is not being investigated as a crime.

“We didn’t think much of her before,” Administrative Assistant Marlena Mac Neill said, referring to the building. “But to see the grand old girl down, we have a new respect for her.”

Mac Neill and others praised contributions from other counties. She also had high regard for the local community.

“People here have been offering to raise one, to help with a barn raising, to push a broom,” she said.

But there is little anyone can do about the pain.

“If I can speak for everyone, they feel their heart and soul has been ripped out,” Mac Neill said. “It’s like you lost an important member of your inner circle.”

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.