Sidewalk plow suspected cause of $500,000 public works building fire in Gravenhurst
GRAVENHURST – A sidewalk plow towed in on the weekend may be the source of a $500,000 fire at the public works yard here early Monday morning.
Workers were just starting to arrive to begin the work week just after 6 a.m. when a smoke detector hooked up to a monitoring system put in the call to the fire department about the blaze in the three front garage repair bays. No one was injured.
A worker also called 911 after spotting the smoke at the main works yard off Winhara Road.
It’s suspected that the sidewalk plow may be the cause of the fire and that a short in it is to blame.
The Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office had two trucks and two inspectors on hand probing the plow.
Fire Chief Larry Brassard said there is no sign of foul play; but that the OFM was called in because there have been a number fires in municipal public works yards in Ontario.
Workers say one of the town’s three troubled sidewalk plows was towed in after breaking down downtown on the weekend.
The plows have been down and inside for repairs in the garage by their two mechanics several times the past two months due to their heavy workload in December and January.
There was no sprinkler system inside the fire area, said Brassard.
Brassard said they got the call at 6:10 a.m. with firefighters from Station 1 first on the scene within about 10 to 15 minutes, after reports of a structure fire. Immediately they called in Station 2 for backup; and eventually five fire trucks and 25 firefighters were on the frigid minus-19 scene, which also had a lot of blowing snow.
He said firefighters quickly laid out their largest hose lines – 2 ½-inches – and began pumping 200 gallons of water per minute onto the fire in the bays that were built of cement blocks, with a brick and siding on the outside.
“For big fires, you use big water,” said the chief, who was on the scene all morning after receiving the call at his home in SevernBridge.
The fast “attack” action let them “hold” the fire and contain it almost exclusively to the repair shop area, with only minor damage to the office and storage room building on the right side of the building next to Hwy. 11
And they were able to “knock it down” in about 30 minutes, said Brassard, who was still there with OFM investigators and his own Gravenhurst team, including fire prevention officer Rob King, until mid-afternoon.
Three big burn marks could be seen outside above the bay doors where flames and smoke shot up and escaped outside of the building where town pickup trucks and parks equipment are repaired and get oil changes.
The other six bays in back for the big plows were not affected by the fire, and the fire didn’t spread to the sand dome behind.
Inside the bays they were covered with black soot, water and smoke damage, most of it confined in the right bay, where the yellow sidewalk plow was parked.
A hydraulic lift in the left bay looked undamaged, but a small gasoline hand snowplow appeared to look damaged.
Snowplow crews had already been called out at 2:30 a.m. to deal with about four inches (10 centimetres) of blowing snow on the roads.
They were back in the works yard surveying the damage at 3 p.m.
Brassard called it the biggest fire of the winter.
Geoff Carleton, director of infrastructure and community services, said the fire didn’t interrupt plowing services and staff should be able to carry on fine until damage is assessed and repairs are done. Meanwhile, work can continue in the other six bays in back.
See two more photos below.
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