Fire levels Market Street Tire in Lake Park

Thursday, December 20, 2018
Photo by Mike Ehret Dickinson County Emergency Management Coordinator

A city street was blocked off and flames were still flickering among the rubble 15 hours after fire destroyed a building in the heart of Lake Park's business district.

Authorities still don't know what caused the blaze, which leveled Market Street Tire Co. in the overnight hours leading into Thursday morning. The fire still showed signs of life in the smoldering rubble on the north side of the building come daylight. Metal siding and tractor tires were piled up on the south side of the remnants. Excavation equipment was staged in a nearby alley.

The Lake Park Fire Department was called at approximately 12:32 a.m. to the automotive repair business, which is located directly across the street from city hall.

"Heavy smoke and fire were coming out the back there," Lake Park Fire Chief Brandon Ehret said. "We put some hose lines on it, got it knocked down and tried to send a crew in through the front of the building. We were unsuccessful in that attempt, because the fire quickly spread through the shop area out toward (the) main street."

A representative from the Iowa Fire Marshal Division could be seen documenting some of the damage Thursday morning.

Photo by Seth Boyes

"There's a lot of stuff in there, and it's going to smolder and steam," Ehret said. "We'll keep an eye on it and, if we have to go back out and put out some more hot spots, that's what we'll do."

Mike Ehret, Dickinson County Emergency Management coordinator and the fire chief's brother, said the main concern with downtown fires is generally whether flames will spread from one building to another in a densely packed area.

"Fortunately, in this case, there was a gap," he said. "It wasn't like years ago in Lake Park where one building started and it went from one to the next."

Lake Park firefighters called for mutual aid soon after they arrived on the scene. The Spirit Lake, Milford, Ocheyedan and Harris Fire Departments were all called for extra manpower and water to combat the fire. Ehret said the crews used water from both the city's hydrant system and Silver Lake itself. He specifically credited the Spirit Lake Fire Department the neighboring department supplied a truck with an aerial apparatus to address the fire from above.

The building's layout posed the biggest challenge as Lake Park firefighters tried to contain the blaze. Fire burned through the roof and inside the walls of the building, according to the fire chief, and it was difficult for crews to enter the building. In addition, the early morning winds fanned the flames. Even after the lot lay smoldering later in the day, winds were strong enough to push roadblocks set up by emergency personnel a short distance across the asphalt. The fire chief said the temperatures were thankfully not so low as to freeze the water.

The county's mobile command unit was dispatched to the scene as well. The newly purchased trailer had been helping with a training exercise for the regional High risk Entry and Arrest Team or HEAT Wednesday afternoon.

"We literally had it backed into the garage and this call came out, so we pulled right back out and headed to Lake Park," the EMS coordinator said. "It had a long day, but it performed very well for us. We used it for rehab for the firefighters and had our radios and things in the front end of it that we utilized as a communications area."

He went on to say providing fluids and rest inside the command unit was important in keeping the firefighters healthy and safe as they worked in shifts.

"They don't like to sometimes, but we try to get them to take breaks let them sit down, get something to drink and some food and rest a little bit," he said, estimating crews were on the scene six hours or more. "We worry about that with the larger fires that go as long as this one did."

The crews eventually brought in an excavator to help contain the fire and tear down unstable portions of the building, according to the fire chief.

"We pulled the walls down to make it safe for us to get on the shop floor and get into some of those other materials and help extinguish some spot fires," he said.

While the shop and office of the business were totally destroyed, the fire chief said an additional building to the southeast which he said was just a few feet from the fire was kept from harm. The flames did not spread to the nearby residences, according to the fire chief.

Photo by Seth Boyes

"The building was stand-alone, and it had parking on both sides an alley and a street," he said. "As far as exposure to other structures, there wasn't a major concern. That's something you watch when you're fighting the fire, but we didn't have any danger."

He went on to say the heavy smoke merited the use of the Lake Park Community Center as a temporary shelter. His brother said the gusty conditions that morning added to the problem.

"The winds were just at the right speed that it wasn't allowing the smoke to rise above houses and things and go away," he said. "It was blowing it straight down through all the houses in the residential area."

Local authorities went door to door in the areas affected the most and offered residents shelter in the community center.

"They did some voluntary evacuations to the southeast of the building," the fire chief said. "It sounded like a few people took advantage of that for awhile."

Ehret said the fire marshal has yet to determine what started the fire. He expects an official to return in the next several days to discuss findings with the Lake Park crew before finalizing the report. The road outside the business remained closed Friday morning, but EMS expected it would be reopened to traffic later in the day, after debris had been removed and inspections completed.

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