GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - An undrained lacquer line sparked by a saw is the cause of an enormous fire that brought every Grand Rapids firefighter to the Kindel Furniture building on Garden Street.
The fire appears to have started on an upper floor of the building around noon on Monday. A welding crew was inside at the time, but managed to escape safely.
A crew had been disassembling lines that used to carry lacquer to a finishing room on the third floor. The crew was told the lacquer line was drained and empty. Just last Thursday, several barrels of lacquer had been moved out.
Though the building, built in 1912, was largely vacant, a working sprinkler system did not go off. Fire officials are investigating why the system may have possibly been shut down.
"The lines were suppose to have been drained. They may very well have been," said GRFD Battalion Chief Bart Perry. "The residual that was left in them caused a flash fire or explosion and a well-involved fire on our arrival."
Perry spoke with reporters around 2 p.m. and said their original concern was the chemicals inside the smoke may have created a breathing hazard.
"Initially we thought there were large amounts of lacquer. That appears to not be the case," he said.
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The smoke stayed above the neighborhoods, so no downwind evacuation was ordered. However, he said, anyone with asthma or other medical conditions should stay inside.
Perry said the east end of the building is the newer portion, and when that was built, a fire wall was included. That appears to be holding, and the structure on that side should be able to be saved.
Firefighters are in a defensive posture at the west end of the building, he said, and they won't committ resources to that side because of the serious danger presented to the firefighters by a downwind plume of the fire.
Firefighters conceded the south side of the building and will let that side burn because they can't safely get to it. Perry said the firefighters will be at the scene throughout the night and likely into Tuesday.
Even the water firefighters were using became a potential hazard, making an already weakened structure more unstable.
"We're putting 20-25,000 gallons a minute on this," Perry said. "We've got every fire truck in the city here."
Along with every GRFD fighter, crews from Wyoming and Plainfield also came to the scene. In all, there were 55 firefighters and 16 fire appartuses.
Kindel Furniture does not operate out of this building. Kindel spokesperson Amy Wolbert said their entire operation is based on Eastern Avenue.
"I'm sure there's some archive items that are going to cause some heartbreak," said company CEO John VanZee. "But the key for us is that the people in the building are safe and we're not manufacturing here. We're able to keep manufacturing on Eastern Avenue."
Van Zee said the company moved operations a few months ago to their Eastern Avenue plant.
Jefferson and Division Avenue were closed at Cottage.
Smoke could be seen for miles, and Wayland Police Chief Dan Miller told 24 Hour News 8 smoke can be seen from the Wayland exit U.S. 131. Viewer reports indicated it could be seen from Zeeland.
Veteran firefighters said this will be one to remember.
"This is a career marker, as we call it for our firefighters. One or two of these in a career is a lot for us," Perry said.
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