LINCOLN - Fire destroyed the Alcona County Road Commission garage in Lincoln and numerous trucks Saturday night, and now administrators are assessing what the road commission can do with its surviving equipment.
A witness saw smoke coming from the building on Lake Street and originally thought it was steam coming from the roof vents, Administrative Assistant Marlena MacNeill said. Alcona County Sheriff deputies were called to the scene later to assist Lincoln, Barton City, Mikado, Harrisville and Alcona Township firefighters, according to a sheriff department release. The blaze was extinguished at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday.
The state fire marshal is investigating the blaze, road commission Managing Director Jesse Campbell said. An investigator looked over the scene Monday, and one is expected to return today. Campbell believes there's no suspicion of foul play so far, and the sheriff department release states no cause has been determined.
"They want to make sure they rule out all areas of suspicion," he said.
So far, Campbell said he estimates the fire caused just over $4 million in damage. The department lost five of its plowing, gravel hauling and scraping trucks, three pickups inside the building and one outside, two medium-duty trucks, and various other smaller equipment. He expects the estimate to rise as employees and insurance adjusters continue to assess the damage.
One of the five plow trucks was a 2013 Western Star the department had just purchased. That alone cost around $193,000, MacNeill said.
The road commission took a considerable hit to its fleet, and Campbell said the services it can offer will be limited. Other surrounding counties have offered services and equipment, and Alcona County is holding off on state highway projects for at least a week. But there's other work that needs to be done before winter, so crews are doing what they can with what they have.
When the snow hits, the road commission should be able to plow the roads with the help of the state and surrounding counties, Campbell said.
While the road commission has insurance through the Michigan County Road Commission Self-Insurance Pool, it won't pay for everything, Campbell said. It's likely the road commission will never quite get back to where it was. The trucks had appreciated-value insurance, and the building had a set cost for replacement.
"The worst part is, we don't have any place to store or work on those vehicles now," MacNeill said. "We're scurrying to find some kind of facility to try to make it work for us."
Alcona Community Schools has offered to make space in its bus garage so the road commission has a place to fix its equipment, Campbell said. A private business owner in Lincoln also has offered garage space. Both offers are under consideration.
The garage originally was built in the 1930s, with two additions built in the '40s and '50s, Campbell said. There was no sprinkler system in the building, although the wiring was updated in 2009 after a fire. A work crew had just finished putting a new roof on the building.
The road commission office was saved, although the department still lost a considerable amount of records, Campbell said. He and MacNeill praised firefighters and deputies for their hard work. Road commission employees also pitched in, saving what equipment they could.
"I'm not pleased with the situation, but I am pleased that no one was injured or killed," he said. "I'm very proud of the community that we have."