MONTCALM TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — While most of West Michigan was sleeping, wind-fed flames tore through an 11-acre complex Saturday night with little resistance.
“The fire load inside was massive. That word doesn’t even do it justice. Floor to ceiling bumpers and cardboard — plastic bumpers and cardboard,” Montcalm Township Firefighter Randy Kibilko said. “It is the largest fire that I have ever been a part of — period.”
The fire started around 10:30 p.m. at Keystone Automotive, a massive equipment and accessories distributor, on Vining Road south of Peck Road.
“It’s a complete loss. Everything’s gone,” Montcalm Township Fire Chief Dickinson.
Authorities say no one was hurt.
“The fire was just too big, too hot, too fast, there was no way we were going to get ahead of it, so it was strictly defensive,” Kibilko said. “You don’t really train for something like this. You train for a quarter of that this was.”
Fire crews, pulling double shifts and working on caffeine and little sleep, could only hope to contain it. They say the community members who have stepped up to bring food and snacks have made the difference.
“It’s hard to have inspiration, but when you got people dropping food off and coffee, it really keeps you going,” Kibilko told News 8 Sunday.
The roof had already collapsed by the time fire crews arrived Saturday night. Dickinson said wind carried flames from the south end of the facility to the north, aided by tunnels connecting multiple buildings, plastics burning inside and the big timber construction of the structure.
“It went through the whole building. At that point, we couldn’t even get trucks close enough to put water on it,” Dickinson told reporters at the scene. “You can’t put manpower up there ’cause it’s so hot and there’s so many chemicals — hazardous chemicals — and things in the building. Of course, you can probably hear the explosions inside.”
So he said crews were taking a “surround and drown” approach, working first to stop the fire from spreading and then putting it out. Two of the departments at the scene were focused solely on keeping the flames from jumping to potato storage buildings to the north of the plant.
“We’re trying to await for (the fire) to die down a little bit so we can get up there and get it put out,” Dickinson said.
With the factory in a rural area and no hydrants nearby, multiple pump stations were set up to the north and south so tanker trucks could go back and forth to refill.
“We’ll be here for probably multiple days just to finish putting the fire out,” Dickinson said.
Nearly 1,000 Consumers Energy customers nearby lost power as the fire raged, according to Consumers’ interactive outage map. It has since been restored.
Employees of Keystone hope the community steps up to support them.
“I was looking forward to that last check for my kid for his first Christmas and (I) don’t know what I’m gonna do,” Matt Raab, an employee of Keystone told News 8.
“It is emotional, it’s heartbreaking. We just hope that community can come together for these people and see if we can get some donations to them — whatever they need to help them have a decent holiday,” Kibilko said.
The cause of the fire is not yet known, but Dickinson said the passerby who called 911 to report it said it was burning at the southwest end of the building, where offices are located.
10 departments were on scene fighting the fire and two more were put on standby to man emptied fire stations.
Michigan State Police is investigating the incident. At this time, they are not ruling out suspicious activity.