Fire at Engineer’s Office causes $100,000 in damages

On Dec. 15, the Madison County Engineer’s Office lost a semi truck (left) and a dump truck in a fire likely caused by a faulty engine block heater.

(Posted Dec. 27, 2017)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

The Madison County Engineer’s Office lost a semi truck, a dump truck, and 20 pallets of asphalt crack sealer in a fire on Dec. 15. The estimated value of the loss is $100,000.

Investigators suspect that electrical malfunction of a heater placed on the semi’s engine block started the fire. The fire then spread to the crack sealer and from there to the dump truck.

“That’s our best guesstimation,” said Brian Bennington, chief of Central Townships Fire District, the primary responder to the fire. He said the severity of the damage to the semi made it difficult to determine exactly what happened.

“There’s really nothing left but a frame and engine on that truck. It was fully engulfed,” said County Engineer Bryan Dhume.

A Madison County Sheriff’s deputy on duty in the area was the first to notice the fire. He called it in just after midnight. Fire crews from Central Townships, London, Plain City, and Pleasant Township in Clark County responded, as did Madison County EMS and the Sheriff’s Office.

Crews doused the fire and cleared the scene around 3:30 a.m., after which Dhume and two members of his staff cleaned up a minor diesel fuel spill and moved the smoldering crack sealer away from the engineer’s office building. The fire scorched siding on the building. Heat from the fire damaged some insulation.

“We’re very fortunate (the fire) did not make its way inside the building,” Dhume said.

He explained that it is common practice to place heaters on diesel truck engines because the engines are hard to start in cold temperatures. The semi lost in the fire was a 1991 Peterbilt used to haul stone. The engineer’s office used the truck regularly and serviced it every 5,000 miles, Dhume said. The trailer attached to the truck suffered minor damage that can be repaired, he added.

“I’m not sure anything could’ve been done differently. (The block heater) is a regular piece of equipment, and it’s standard practice to plug those things in overnight. It was just one of those unfortunate things,” he said.

Investigators believe a Dec. 15 fire at the Madison County Engineer’s Office spread from a semi truck to pallets of asphalt crack sealer, causing damage to the exterior of Engineer’s Office building. From there, the fire spread to a dump truck parked next to the semi.

Dhume estimates the value of the lost materials and equipment as follows: $18,000 in crack sealer, $25,000 for the semi, and $50,000 for the dump truck, a 2004 International. He has yet to receive an estimate on repairs to the damaged building. Insurance will cover the losses.

“The downside is we’re not going to be able to find the same in used trucks (for replacements), especially the dump truck since they are custom specified for us,” Dhume said.

Ditch crews used the dump truck to haul riprap, large stone used for erosion control. The stone is hard on truck beds. The truck was outfitted with a special bed that could handle the wear and tear.

Dhume said that in purchasing a new dump truck, his office will have to absorb any costs above the insured replacement value of the lost truck. He said a new truck will cost about $150,000.

Moving forward, Dhume said, crack seal materials will be stored further away from any structures. He also plans to install a second Knox Box, a fireproof box containing keys and other access items for emergency responders. The fire department had trouble getting to the Dec. 15 fire because a fence with a mechanically operated gate surrounds the equipment yard. The second Knox Box will be installed at the gate.

Central Townships Fire District needs to replace $16,000 worth of hoses and firefighter bunker gear. The gear absorbed the liquified crack sealer, which is flammable, Bennington explained.

Dhume said in addition to being thankful the fire didn’t get inside the building, he was impressed with how the incident was handled.

“I was encouraged by the response of everyone involved–from the fire department to our employees. Everyone did what they needed to do. Everyone did their job,” he said.

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