(Lt. William Wilson, Ferndale Police Dept, May 17, 2012)
At approximately 10:30 am Van Industries at 1285 Wordsworth in Ferndale had a fire. The cause of the fire is yet unknown, but Ferndale Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan said it began in a storage room where large vats of animal vat were kept in metal drums.
“We’re not sure how it started, but it was in a room with 3 foot thick cement walls, but the fire spread to the processing part of the building, and that’s where most of the damage is.”
The fat is an ingredient in an industrial buffering agent. “It’s similar to what you would use when you buff out a scratch on a car, except that this is for industrial applications,” Sullivan said. “If you’ve ever seen how they make make up, it’s the same kind of thing. They take the animal fat and they refine it more than this stuff would be, and it goes in women’s makeup.”
The processing section of the facility has been destroyed. The roof caved in part of the back wall collapsed, a side wall leans in unsoundly. At 2:30pm crews were still putting water on the smoldering pile of debris. The vats full of animal fat proved problematic as it burned for a couple of hours, sending a pillar of black smoke and flames into the air. Sullivan said that at one point the men had to back off because an explosion had sent a burning propane tank right over their heads, melting their helmets.
“It was essentially a big grease fire,” Sullivan said. “Thankfully it’s only animal fat and not toxic chemicals or anything like that.” Shortly after the fire was reported, Ferndale Police Lt. William Wilson said that there was “no special danger due to any poisonous smoke.”
According to Sullivan, Van Industries is a family owned business that has been in Ferndale for over 50 years. “This is devastating for them,” he said, adding that he hoped they had insurance. City Manager April McGrath issued a statement describing the start of the fire, stating “55 gallon drum of animal fat was heated too quickly causing it boil over onto flames. Employees tried to extinguish the fire with fire extinguishers, however, the fire overtook the building causing employees to call 911.” McGrath also stated that three of the five employees of the company were on the scene at the time, and there were no reported injuries.
The building structure is estimated to be valued at $250,000 with another $250,000 in equipment and product.
The Ferndale Fire Department was assisted by departments from Royal Oak, Hazel Park and Madison Heights. Video of the fire can be seen at http://www.wxyz.com/dpp/news/region/oakland_county/crews-battle-massive-industrial-fire-in-ferndale.