A passer-by noticed smoke coming from the back of a storage building at a Uniontown business Thursday night.
Greg Schepman’s call to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department about the fire likely averted major damage at Canary Outdoor Power Equipment, which is owned by Aaron and Kendra Knieriem.
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Around 8 p.m., Schepman was driving past the business, at 11723 E. State Road 250 near Interstate 65, when he looked over and initially thought snow was blowing off the roof. He then determined it was smoke.
Crothersville-Vernon Township Fire Chief Ben Spencer was the first to arrive on the scene a short time later, followed by firefighters from his department and Jackson-Washington and Jennings township fire departments.
Spencer declared the fire out at 9:15 p.m., but some firefighters stayed on the scene to make sure the fire didn’t rekindle.
The cause of the fire is undetermined, but it could possibly be electrical, Spencer said. No one was injured in the incident.
“We were fortunate the fire departments got here quick,” Aaron Knieriem said. “Because they got here quickly, they were able to keep it from taking the whole (building) because that could have really gotten ugly fast. Very thankful for them.”
The Knieriems’ business is just east of the large storage building, which is more than 50 years old and previously housed shoe and furniture stores. Aaron Knieriem said there were around 50 pieces of equipment stored in the building.
Items suffering the most damage were hydrostatic transmissions used in lawn mowers and utility vehicles, valued at $600 to $1,200 each, and some lawn mower tires.
Those items were stacked along the south wall of the building, near where the fire originated. A room in that part of the building, which included an electrical panel, was gutted by the fire.
“Because they contained (the fire) to that back room there, our inventory looks OK, maybe a little bit singed or water-logged or covered in soot, but I think it’s all right,” Aaron Knieriem said.
He added, though, that the fire didn’t come at a good time because new lawn mowers were being stored there until spring arrives. Now, he will have to find a place to store them.
Aaron Knieriem said structural repairs will have to be made to the building because the ceiling was sagging on the south end.
The business was able to open Friday morning.
Spencer estimated 40 firefighters were at the scene. Because of the heavy smoke and frigid temperature, he sent two firefighters into the building at a time along with an officer, including Deputy Chief Charlie Densford or safety officers Ron Spencer and B.J. McLain.
“We were making sure we were rotating guys about every 10 to 15 minutes,” Ben Spencer said. “We were making sure we were getting in and out.”
Firefighters focused on putting out the fire on the south side of the building and not letting it creep into the attic, Spencer said.
“There’s so much open space up there that if the fire would have gotten up there, then it would have been a longer night for us,” he said.
Once the fire was out, firefighters worked on hitting hot spots and carrying water- and fire-damaged items outside and covering them with snow to cool them off.
“Our main thing is we wanted to make sure we have no fire in the insulation,” Spencer said. “Insulation is notorious for holding fire and then eventually letting out.”
Spencer also used a thermal imaging camera to assess the damage and try and determine the cause.
Jackson County Emergency Medical Services personnel were on standby, but fortunately, no one was injured. Spencer said firefighters were allowed to get in the back of the ambulance to warm up since the outside temperature was close to single digits.
Spencer said this was his department’s sixth fire in two weeks. Three were in their general response area, and the other three were for mutual aid.