It was an extremely difficult night for firefighters from half a dozen departments Sunday night at Ameriwood Industries in downtown Dowagiac, and now comes the hard part for administrators and employees of the furniture manufacturer as they work in bitterly cold temperatures to assess the damage and find ways to lock down the exact cause of the stubborn blaze.
Dowagiac and Wayne Township Fire Departments were first on the scene just minutes after 5:30pm last night, and it would be six hours before the huge blaze was successfully knocked down around 9:30pm, but with hot spots still in some walls and other areas of the plant, some firefighters were still on the scene until after midnight.
Firefighters had to battle Mother Nature as well as the fire with temperatures hovering in the single digits throughout the course of their work, ranging from 5 to 9 degrees above zero, but with windchills well below zero for most of the fight.
Ameriwood, located at 202 Spaulding in Dowagiac, manufactures unassembled furniture products for retailers across the nation. Third shift workers on Sunday and first shift workers today were furloughed by the fire's impact.
Deputy Dowagiac Fire Chief Robert Smith says, "As units were responding smoke was noted from the structure visible over the downtown area." He adds, "A MABAS box alarm was requested and moved to a 2nd alarm which brought Indian Lake, Sister Lakes, Pokagon and Cassopolis fire departments."
Smith says that arriving units were met with fire showing in the area of the boiler heating and sawdust hopper areas. Authorities say that due to heavy fire conditions, noted structural damage and limited visibility in the large structure, "Master streams were deployed from the aerial ladder, apparatus and ground systems."
As conditions improved and the fire was isolated, fire crews moved into safe areas of the structure to locate and extinguish hot spots and extensions. Smith tells us, "The fire was declared under control at about 2130 hours (9:30pm) with crews remaining on scene until after midnight to extinguish smaller hot spots in the walls and roofing in the main fire area."
The fire is believed to have started due to an explosion in the boiler feed auger system. That system feeds stored sawdust to a burner which is part of the boiler heating system. Damage to that area included large overhead doors and walls damaged from the explosion. Additionally, structural damage from the fire is still being assessed and the department is returning to work with Ameriwood crews today for follow up on the amount of total damage.
Deputy Chief Smith says fire crews were supported by generous businesses and citizens who brought beverages and food to support the firefighters, and True’s Towing brought a heated trailer for fire crews to warm up in. The good news is no injuries have been reported as a result of the fiery incident.
Ameriwood Industries manufactures unassembled furniture which is sold to retailers for resale to the general public as well as various laminated products supplied to other manufacturers. The company makes a variety of products for the home.
The image shared here is a screen capture from the team at IT3 Computer, Networking, Security at AllWebInfused, which has live cameras in multiple communities across the region. Hundreds of people were watching the live camera feed as the fire burned last night in Dowagiac.