Evasive AMPI fire causes limited damage

Mike Duerksen follows fellow firefighter Murray Koop up the ladder and onto the roof of the former AMPI building Wednesday morning in what turned out to be a challenge to find the source of a fire within. Smoke was wafting from the small black area in the far upper left of the photo. It took firefighters from Hillsboro and Marion nearly two hours to find the room of origin. On the ground are Dave Lancaster (left) and Todd Helmer. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press. Click image to enlarge.
Inspectors from the state fire marshall?s office have yet to determine the cause of a fire Wednesday at the former AMPI building that caused more frustration than actual damage.

<p>?The investigation is still ongoing,? said Hillsboro Fire Chief Ben Steketee on Friday. ?We haven?t been able to determine exactly what started it.?<p>With smoke escaping from the roof at the highest point of the city-owned facility, the first call for emergency assistance came in at 9:37 a.m. The Hills?boro Fire Depart?ment was on the scene by 9:42.<p>Steketee said the most challenging part of battling the fire was finding it.<p>?It was difficult to find mainly because the building itself has so many rooms,? he said. ?It?s a maze, and it?s gone through some changes recently because the city rents out space to different businesses.?<p>Steketee said the department?s thermal-imaging camera wasn?t of much assistance.<p>?The room (where the fire started) was so well insulated that the heat inside wasn?t escaping anywhere, so the camera didn?t really render much use. So we had to resort to the old-fashioned methods of searching.?<p>At 10:30, and with local firefighters growing tired, Steketee placed a call for assistance from the Marion Fire Department, which arrived on the scene within 16 minutes with three vehicles.<p>Working together, firefighters finally found the fire around 11:25 a.m.<p>?Finally, the attack team made entry into the walk-in door that faces north but is on the east side of the building,? Steketee said. ?It was right in that room that we found the room of fire origin.?<p>Stacks of cardboard pallets were burning, he said. Initial efforts to douse the fire were less than successful. Steketee said the decision was made to move the smoldering stacks to the door with a rented pallet jack, then transfer them into the city?s skid loader and dump them in the parking area.<p>Steketee said the operation was terminated about 2:40 p.m. But within a half hour, a second call came in and both the Hillsboro and Marion departments returned to the scene.<p>?When I got there, I saw flames coming out,? Steketee said. ?What before was virtually a contents fire was now a structure fire. The reason it got away from us is it that it wormed its way through the insulation and got into some wood planks that were part of the header assembly between those two rooms.?<p>At one point, when it appeared the structural integrity of the roof had been compromised, Steketee ordered firefighters into a defensive mode?which means they evacuated the building in order to fight it from the exterior only.<p>?What happened is that so much insulation in that roof had melted away that it made the roof look concaved?and that?s a bad thing, because that?s often a sign that the rafters have lost integrity. <p>?We didn?t want to get anybody hurt,? Steketee said.<p>Once the determination was made that the roof still maintained integrity, firefighters were able to fight the fire more aggressively and extinguished it by about 5:38 p.m.<p>As of Monday, no monetary estimate had been placed on the damage. The contents that were affected, including some old equipment, were owned by Golden Heritage Foods. Com?pany president Brent Barkman said Saturday the loss was minimal.<p>The Hillsboro Police Depart?ment, which had to evacuate its headquarters, reoccupied the building the following day with some smoke damage. <p>Mayor Delores Dalke said that while the city council recently had been considering estimates to insure the building, it was not covered at the time of the fire.<p>?In some ways you can look back and say we should have done it?and we should have, since this happened,? Dalke said. ?But we were trying to be good stewards of the city?s money.?<p>Dalke said preliminary review indicates damage to the building should not affect the plans of USD 410 to move its central office and transportation and maintenance services into the structure if its bond election passes in June.<p>?I don?t think anything that burned would make any difference to the school,? she said. <p>?It?s going to cost the city of Hillsboro some money to clean up the soot and repair the roof. We?ve got some professional restoration people coming in to give us an estimate of what that?s going to take.?<p>Dalke said all things considered, the incident turned out well for the city.<p>?I believe the way the building was built caused it to take longer to find the fire?but it also contained the fire,? she said. ?So I think we got by very, very lucky.?<p>Dalke praised the way emergency personnel and city employees responded.<p>?I am just so pleased with our fire department, and thankful for the Marion Fire Department for coming over to help?they did a great job,? she said. <p>?Our city employees did a great job, too, and our police department got their computers and materials out of there so they wouldn?t have smoke damage. They have cleaned up their space and its business as usual for them.?

More from Hillsboro Free Press
Cooperative contributes to 4-H program
Kerry Watson (center), communications specialist for the Mid Kansas Cooperative Association, presents...
Read More