UPDATE 10/3/23 3:30 p.m.
CHEBOYGAN — The City of Cheboygan says state and insurance investigations into what caused the Tissue Depot fire are almost completed.
They say the EPA and its contractors will be demolishing sections of the warehouse building that are at risk of collapsing, including the conveyor system across Main Street, over the next few weeks. Once all the dangerous sections of the building are removed, the EPA will strategically remove coal ash piles from the site.
There may be temporary road closures during this process, but all businesses along Main Street will remain open.
9/22/23 9:10 a.m.
More than a week after a massive fire broke out at the Tissue Depot, sending thick black smoke into the air in Cheboygan, the city’s volunteer firefighters are still having to contend with flare-ups.
The fire chief, Don Dailey, said they’ve had to go back six times hitting the flames. The last one occurred on Wednesday, taxing that fire department and keeping them busy.
“It’s very taxing, stressful, a lot of physical stress and mental stress and a lot of exhaustion,” said Dailey.
Meanwhile, a Michigan State Police fire investigator visited the plant earlier Thursday to share his expertise, trying to determine the cause of the massive fire.
Dailey said the excessive damage the fire caused is making it more difficult to figure out how the fire started.
“With the roof collapse and the wall collapse, being all steel, we had to get excavators in there to remove the steel that was covering up the fire in order to extinguish the fire. And so, a lot of destruction was done in that process of just extinguishing the fire. That’s why we hired, brought in the pros, because they are way more trained and qualified than us. And that’s what they do every day,” said Dailey.
Dailey said this is by far the worst fire he’s ever dealt with in his 28 years with the department.
Cheboygan fire is volunteer, making it a bit more taxing, fighting the massive fire that was mentally and physically exhausting.
“Before I even arrived on scene. I was at the north end of town when I was notified of it, and I could see it from there. And I knew that it was bad. And so, I immediately called in for mutual aid before I even arrived on scene,” said Dailey.
Dailey said this fire will stick out in his memory for quite some time.
Eventually every fire department in the county was called in along with Pellston to help with air supply.
“Of my fire department, I had 22 of the 24 members who were here in between that and rekindles. We have probably almost 30 hours into this. I myself have well over 100,” said Dailey.
Cheboygan’s fire department is volunteer. Dailey said that makes dealing with fires like this a bit more challenging.
“The ones that were able to were there, where some that were not able to because of their job, but they did show up when they were able to. Some had to leave to go to work. But that’s the nature of the beast,” said Dailey.
Daily said they rely heavily on mutual aid, calling in eight other departments to help with this fire.
Fencing around the building is complete. Dailey is asking that people still stay away. Dailey said the conveyor that crosses over main street is structurally compromised, keeping roads near the plant shut down indefinitely.
“We don’t want any heavy trucks causing vibrations in it and the structural stability of it’s already compromised. We tightened up the road closures a little bit. To make the businesses more accessible and the residents.
Businesses on Main Street had to be closed down temporarily but have since opened back up. Still for some, they are still being impacted from the closures.
Mike Van Fleet, the owner of Duncan City Pizza Company said it’s definitely caused a slowdown in business since last week.
“Foot traffic is down and the ability for people to come in on their lunch breaks that are trying to get in and out fast are having issues, trying to navigate the barricades and so on. But our locals are getting used to it. So, we’re almost back to normal as far as the local business goes,” said Van Fleet.
Van Fleet said there’s nothing he can do but wait it out and hope it ends soon but he’s not optimistic about it.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon, though. I’m guessing it’s going to be a couple of months before they get everything figured out with Main Street,” said Van Fleet.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are doing tests for potential impact to the environment, looking at water, air, debris, and testing of the metals found in the plant.
Test results from the EPA are expected later this week. EGLE’s preliminary results are back but they want to vet the results. They are expected to be available to the public next week.