Thursday, March 25, 2010

Double Fire North of Petoskey Closes U.S. 31

Fire fighters from at least four northern Michigan fire departments battled two structure fires that closed U.S. 31 for more than five hours this afternoon north of Petoskey in Conway.

Shortly before noon today the Conway Towing building located on the corner of U.S. 31 and Cook St. was reported to be burning. The building was home to the automotive towing business, a U-Haul rental business, a hazardous material cleanup business, a residential apartment and an automotive repair shop.

Witnesses described the building as being almost fully engulfed in flames when explosions sent debris into the highway and onto houses and neighboring properties several hundred feet away. Fire fighters and onlookers scrambled for cover as the first explosion rocked the building at about one p.m. A second, larger explosion at about two p.m. sent people yelling and running once again. At least one of the explosions was believed to be caused by the rupturing of a large fuel tank that had recently been filled.

As the fire in the commercial building was being brought under control firefighters noticed that a residence on the opposite side of the highway just south of the original blaze was also burning. The Crooked Lake home was heavily damaged but did not appear completely destroyed. The residence appeared to have caught fire after burning debris from the Conway Towing building landed on its wood shingled roof.

A witness familiar with the property owner who did not wish to be quoted said that there was only one person in the building when the fire was discovered and she escaped unharmed. Onsite emergency personnel stated that no injuries had been reported in either blaze.

Fire fighters used excavating equipment to pull down the last standing portions of the Conway Towing building while it was still burning. The building appears to be a total loss that will leave at least four businesses looking for new homes.

The official cause of the fires is not known at this time but the most popular opinion of witnesses on the scene seemed to be that the original blaze was caused by an electrical problem.