4 FDs fight Lafarge fire

ALPENA -Firefighters from Alpena, Alpena Township, East Grand Lake and Maple Ridge battled a fire at Lafarge for a good portion of the day after a conveyer belt that was being worked on caught fire and spread. The call to 911 came in at 10:24 a.m. and a call for out-of-county assistance went out at a little after 12 p.m.

The fire moved along the belt dropping flaming rubber from above, moved through a structure and continued on to the other side. Smoke could be seen from miles away and onlookers lined up on Ford Avenue and Wessel Road to take pictures and videos of the fire.

Firefighters utilized city fire hydrants near McRae Park to transport water to the scene and there was only one ladder truck with a bucket that was battling the flames stories above the ground. Capt. Rob Edmonds said the workers used fire extinguishers when it started, but it got away from them and the 911 call was made. He said because there wasn’t water available at the scene it presented a challenge when trying to put it out. A five-inch water line and a 2 1/2-inch hose was run to Ford Avenue in order to transport water to the fire.

“Not having a water source caused the fire to spread from us more quickly. We called in the mutual aid for tankers, but we were still going through the water quite fast for a while,” Edmonds said. “Really once we got adequate water it didn’t take that long to put out, it just took a while to get it.”

Edmonds said although burning debris was falling from about 130 feet in the air, there was nothing below that was in danger of igniting. He said it was mostly gravel and small patches of grass and nothing very combustible. Edmonds said the breeze off of Thunder Bay didn’t help however.

“It wasn’t a strong wind, but it was steady and it pushed the fire into the structure and helped it to spread more rapidly,” Edmonds said. “At one point we had the belt burning on both sides of the structure.”

Plant Manager Paul Rogers said once it became apparent the fire was too much for the employees to handle, Lafarge’s emergency response plan was put into effect and local emergency services were notified. He said there is a water source near the fire, but it couldn’t reach the scene. Rogers said a meeting between the city fire department and plant officials will take place to see how to handle a similar situation should it happen again in the future.

“We have ponds and pumps in the quarry, but we just couldn’t get it to where we needed it,” Rogers said. “We will sit down and put our heads together to see what we can do in the future to prevent this type of thing from happening again and either to make better use of the water we have or some other plan.”

Rogers said more than anything else he was happy no one was hurt during the fire. He said he also was impressed with how well the firefighters work together, even though they are stationed at different department. He said the plant’s employees also did a good job of providing assistance to the firefighters.

“These guys did a great job and had great cooperation among the different departments,” Rogers said. “We had two or three fires to battle and two or three different methods being used to put them out, it was great. Everyone showed a lot of bravery and perseverance to do this safely and as quickly as possible.”

Although there is a substantial amount of damage to the conveyer belt system on the quarry side of the plant, Rogers said the plant has a significant amount of product inventory in place to cover orders for the short term. He said after an damage assessment is done, work will begin to fix the area that burned.

“We don’t anticipate a long repair period and this will not prevent us from meeting the needs of out customers,” Rogers said. “The number one most important thing in all of this is nobody was injured. The safety of the workers of the plant and the safety of the community is always the number one thing for us.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com.