The Bay View Foods/Mr. Chips pickle plant in Fraser Township, Michigan, suffered a major fire on Saturday afternoon. The plant was not in operation, but employees were on site and contacted Bay County Central Dispatch.
The Pinconning-Fraser Fire Department (PFFD) received the first call at 3:18 pm, and Bay Alerts sent a notification that M-13 (Huron Road) was closed at that time. Eventually, firefighters from Auburn-Williams, Bangor, Frankenlust, Garfield, Gibson, Kawkawlin, Mount Forest, Standish, and Sterling Townships and the Region 3 Hazardous Materials Team came to the scene, with support from the Bay County Sheriff's Department, Michigan State Police, Bay County Road Commission, Bay County Emergency Management, Med-Star and Northern Bay Ambulance, and employees from Walt's Trucking, Gushow Excavating, Foster-Blue Water Oil, and Bay View Foods.
The cause of the blaze, which began at the rear of the building, remains under investigation. PFFD Chief Dave Ramsay said the structure, which appears from satellite images to consist of six interconnected buildings, had no sprinklers, and that there were no hydrants on site. Firefighters stationed one aerial unit at the front of the building, fed from hydrants at the roadside, and another at the rear which had to be supplied with water trucked in to a portable tank. There was over a half mile of five-inch supply hose laid to the various apparatus on the scene. Around 7:00 pm they were notified that the water tower in Fraser Township was down to 1/4 capacity, and the Saginaw-Midland Water Supply Corporation allowed firefighters to draw water from their facility just north of Almeda Beach Road. The Department calculated on Sunday that they used over 400,000 gallons of water on the fire.
The Haz-Mat team on site monitored both air quality and water runoff for traces of acetic acid, which makes up 5% of vinegar by volume, but is often stored in food processing facilities in higher concentrations. Around 7:30 the levels began to increase, and the incident commander chose to order the evacuation of 5 residences on Kaiser Road, east of the facility, out of an abundance of caution. The initial fire was extinguished around 10:30 pm and residents were allowed to return home.
Due to the construction and modifications to the structure, a tremendous amount of heat was retained inside areas of the building, and the blaze rekindled in the early hours of the morning. At that point, construction equipment was brought in, and even an excavator was unable to pierce the metal roof. It eventually raked sheets of steel roofing off individually. Due to the interconnected nature of the structure and the heat, smoke, and water damage throughout, Chief Ramsay believes it will be a total loss. The last department cleared the scene about 5:30 Sunday morning and M-13 was reopened.
The Chief was profuse in his praise for those who responded.
"We had 64 firefighters from 10 different departments on scene, and along with support people close to 100 total people," Ramsay said. "We had one firefighter who had a medical issue during his rehabilitation period. He was taken to Standish Hospital by ambulance, where he was treated and released. This was a nightmare scenario, with a huge number of people involved, but everyone did their job the way they were trained, and they all went home at the end of it. I can't thank the community enough for their support. H&H Bakery and the Janicke family delivered food, and we had many other offers of whatever we needed."
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