Wednesday, June 7, 2023

7 fire departments respond to large scrap metal blaze at Greenville Steel

Greenville Department of Public Safety Sgt. and Fire Lt. Darren Jones observes firefighting efforts while working as incident command of a large scrap yard fire at Greenville Steel in Eureka Township on Thursday. — DN Photo | Cory Smith

EUREKA TOWNSHIP — A scrap metal fire was extinguished without any injuries reported after about four hours Thursday once firefighters from seven departments came together with enough water to extinguish the large blaze. 

At approximately 12:38 p.m., firefighters from the Greenville Department of Public Safety responded to a report of smoke coming from Greenville Steel Inc. at 6632 SW Greenville Road (M-91). 

Upon arrival, GDPS Sgt. and Fire Lt. Darren Jones said it became evident that a large amount of water would be needed to extinguish a blaze which was consuming a portion of the company’s scrap yard at the southwest corner of the property. 

“When we arrived at the scene, it was a heavy, huge column of black smoke with a lot of fire in the back corner of the property in a scrap pile,” he said. “The employees were trying to separate it with their loaders, but the fire just got too out of hand.” 

According to Jones, employees first observed smoke from the fire “about 10 minutes” after they had completed separating piles of scrap metal. However, as the fire grew, it quickly became evident that additional support would be needed.

With no hydrants near the property, as the city’s water infrastructure system does not continue into Eureka Township, Jones said calling in water tender units from nearby departments was the only effective way to get enough water on the growing fire. 

“I called in mutual aid from Montcalm Township and Belding for water from their tender units, to try to set up some relay pumping for our ladder truck and water cannon,” Jones said. “It took some time to get that set up. I then realized I wanted a separate tank and separate engine dedicated to the west side of the fire because we couldn’t quite reach all of it with just our ladder truck.” 

Jones added that while the Flat River was not far from the scene, it wasn’t a viable source given the size of the fire.

“If you were fighting a brush fire, that would work, but we needed a hydrant where water is being put out at 90 PSI, where they can fill up the tenders pretty quick,” he said. 

Eventually, a total of three water relay stations were set up to feed water to engines to attack the fire with three deck guns, with water tenders supplied by the GDPS, Montcalm Township, Spencer Township and Lakeview District fire departments. 

The departments established a water source utilizing a hydrant in the former Meijer parking lot in the city limits, not far from Greenville Steel. 

Additionally, brush truck units from the Sheridan Community Fire Department and the Michigan DNR also arrived at the scene to help keep the fire from spreading beyond the property and into nearby wooded areas, with Sheridan also providing additional manpower. 

“We were just having a hard time hitting it,” Jones said. “We were trying to get things set up on the back side, but it’s difficult, given the location. Once we got a flow of water set up with a relay pumping station and everyone got in a rhythm, then we pretty much had constant water. With how big that fire is, when you can provide a constant flow and overcome the BTUs (British thermal unit) of what that fire is putting out with enough water, you can finally get it under control.”

Jones said the fire was strictly fought defensively with a focus on containing the blaze. 

“It’s all scrap burning, so this was a matter of containment,” he said. “It wasn’t a life-saving issue and we weren’t concerned about a lot of property damage. This was about containment and making sure we didn’t end up with a runaway brush fire because it’s the season for that.” 

GDPS Interim Director Brian Blomstrom said while the cause of the fire remains under investigation, he does not believe it to be suspicious at this time. 

“The fire investigation unit will look to see if anything else develops, but there is nothing suspicious at this time,” he said. “All that the employees at Greenville Steel have done all day is sort the material, pushing it around to make sure it stays neat and orderly. One possibility is the fact that when the pile shifted, there could have been friction that ignited flammable material that was in the pile, but that’s only a thought at this time.” 

With several members of the GDPS out of the city due to attending training in Stanton, and assisting firefighters being volunteers who work separate full-time jobs, Blomstrom said while frustrating, it was understandable that it took longer than desired to get the water relay system established to fight the fire. 

“Right now, this issue is everywhere, but it’s not uncommon,” he said. “During the day, most of your volunteer firefighters are at work. They have to leave work and come to the fire station. So as you call for additional units to assist, it all depends on what they have available. When you start calling in different tenders, it takes time to establish a good water shuttle, but once it’s established, it’s very efficient.” 

Despite the delay in additional water to the scene, Blomstrom said the first hit of water upon arrival of the GDPS contained the fire to the southwest corner of the scrap yard, preventing it from rapidly spreading any further.

“Sgt. Jones did a great job knowing that he had to attack the fire very quickly to keep it to the area of origin while Public Safety Officer Jamie Sorsen worked to make sure the fire never made it outside of the confines of the yard, which would have started a field fire. Both officers did a great job keeping the fire in check until we could get the water shuttle established, to continue extinguishing it.” 

Montcalm County Central Dispatch and EMS also assisted at the scene.

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