Industrial Fire Was Ferndale's Biggest Blaze in 10 to 15 Years, Fire Chief Says
"We had to change our strategy a couple times," Ferndale Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan said of fighting the fast-moving fire, which was caused by a drum of animal fat that boiled over.
The massive fire at Van Industries on Thursday morning was the worst blaze Ferndale has seen in at least 10 years, Ferndale Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan said Friday.
A 55-gallon drum of animal fat that boiled over caused the fire, which burned for hours and sent smoke billowing from the area that could be seen for many miles away. There were no injuries reported.
"It's probably the worst we've seen in about 10 to 15 years," Sullivan said.
When the fire broke out around 10:30 a.m. Thursday, employees at the business tried to extinguish the blaze with fire extinguishers but flames quickly overtook the building at 1285 Wordsworth Rd., and employees called 911.
Sullivan said fire can double in size within seconds and said employees reported that the fire "chased them out" of the building. "That means they were losing the battle," he said.
For a business, Sullivan said the department typically recommends one person call the fire department while another attempts to use an extinguisher.
As the first fire trucks left for the scene, firefighters could see a column of black smoke in the sky. By 11 a.m., flames had burst through the roof of the commercial building.
"It could've just been a hot, fast-moving fire," Sullivan said, but emphasized the importance of calling for help immediately. "That might have made a big impact."
The company – located about half a mile north of Eight Mile Road near the railroad tracks east of Hilton – manufactures sanding, buffing and polishing products.
The space also had an open floor plan and no "fire doors," which can be used to section off a building and block fire from spreading.
"Had they had fire doors on the room in question that might have contained it completely," Sullivan said. "We're trying to get people to understand with fire departments being trimmed back that it's really a good idea to have some of these safety systems in place. You can't be too careful."
Ferndale firefighters were assisted by the Royal Oak, Madison Heights, Oak Park and Hazel Park fire departments - about 40 to 45 firefighters total - all who were quickly called in as the first firefighters took in the scene.
There were no injuries in the fire, however Sullivan described one "scary moment" in which a hi-lo fired by a propane tank exploded overtop of a three-man crew, causing a gas explosion adding to the fire and smoke. The incident seared the helmets of the crew members but they were not injured, he said.
"After we had those issues I called all the crews out and we re-established where the danger zones were," he said. "We had to change our strategy a couple times."
The value of the building structure is estimated at $250,000 with another $250,000 in equipment and product inside, according to the Ferndale City Manager's office.
Ferndale Mayor David Coulter was at the scene on Thursday and said Van Industries, a family-owned business, has been in Ferndale for nearly 50 years. Sullivan said the owner will have to decide whether to rebuild or how to proceed.
"We saved everything in the warehouse," Sullivan said, pointing out that all of the completed products and raw products are in tact. "They just have no more manufacturing area."
An employee at Van Industries said Sunday that they are working with the insurance company and will know more on Monday about "what the future brings" for the business.
Officials said there was no danger to area residents due to any poisonous smoke or fumes.