BLENDON TWP. – Fire crews battled a blaze for more than two hours Wednesday at the Blendon Pines Gun Club after a lawn mower on the club’s front porch caught on fire.
That’s according to the Blendon Township gun club’s owner, Russ Grasman, who said he had just mowed a patch of grass and turned the engine off. Fifteen minutes later, his son di lui yelled for him, saying he saw smoke.
“It was engulfed in flames and the whole corner of the building was gone,” Grasman said, pointing his hands over his head, showing that the fire was taller than him at that point. He used up his fire extinguisher before having to leave the building for safety.
The building housed a full gun store, a clubhouse, a banquet facility and a garage. More than 200 guns were stored in the building, mostly shotguns, and accompanying ammunition.
At the beginning of the blaze, ammunition was popping inside the building, and some even shot out, Grasman said.
The blaze tore through the roof of the clubhouse, spreading quickly as fire teams added more water to all sides of the building. Glass could be heard breaking, and firefighters tore through walls and ceilings to stop the fire from spreading. Smoke was in the air, and the darkest smoke could be seen from about 2 miles away.
Because of the amount of ammunition located in the building, Blendon Township Fire Chief Kurt Gernaat said it was considered a “hazard.”
“It does keep us from getting too close,” he added.
While the fire is still under investigation, Gernaat said that accumulated dead grass on a lawn mower next to the hot belt that is still spinning is what could have caused the machine to catch on fire.
“That’s 100 percent speculation,” Gernaat said.
A Michigan State Police fire marshal is set to investigate the scene Thursday morning.
On top of battling a fast-moving fire, crews were working in 89-degree weather.
“The heat is our biggest battle today,” Gernaat said Wednesday afternoon.
While firefighters can typically go through two breathing apparatus packs in an hour, in this situation Gernaat said he had his team working in 30-minute intervals and taking turns. At each break, the firefighters got their blood pressure and vitals taken by the EMS paramedics in their ambulance trucks that had air conditioning.
“Just with their gear on, their body temperature goes over 100,” Gernaat said. The firefighter then only gets hotter as they enter the building.
Because of the compounding heat, firefighters from departments from across Ottawa County responded, some running up the road to give relief to the first and second teams.
Crews from Blendon and Allendale townships were the first on the scene, working hard to stop the initial fire and to keep it from spreading to other parts of the large facility.
“The first 10-20 people here worked their tails off,” Gernaat said. “We burned up our initial tag team really fast.”
Outside the burning building, firefighters sat and cooled off, downing bottles of water and Gatorade supplied by a next-door neighbor. Then, a team from Ottawa County Canteen set up a table with a variety of snacks, water, Gatorade and wet towels.
“We bring food and hydration for the fire departments and any first responder,” a Canteen worker said.
After two hours, about 13 fire vehicles were on site. A long water supply hose stretched a half-mile down the dirt road leading into the sport club. It began at a large square pool at the end of the driveway that was being supplied by other trucks parked down the street. One firefighter said this pool was used because there weren’t any fire hydrants nearby. At one point, four power hoses were used on the building at once to control the blaze.
Gernaat guessed that “tons of thousands of gallons” of water was being distributed from 10-20 tanker trucks.
By the end, more than half of the building stood charred, leaving a skeleton of what remained.
Grasman said he had about $ 100,000 worth of mounted taxidermy animals hanging on the walls, including two elk and a moose.
“That cool bear mount is gone,” one club member said, watching the fire.
“Man, that sucks,” another added.
A couple skids of ammunition, a few golf carts and a pontoon boat were saved from the blaze. Grasman said a firefighter even went in and saved an essential laptop computer used for the business.
“The one that’ll let us run the range,” said Kyle Grasman, son of Russ and gun store manager. Kyle said he had already overnighted an order of membership cards, since the original ones burned inside.
“We hope to have the range open by Saturday, but the gun store will be at least a couple of weeks,” Russ Grasman said.
Amy Grasman, co-owner to the business and wife of Russ, said she had to cancel her tennis practice Wednesday afternoon. She is the coach of the Unity Christian High School tennis team in Hudsonville.
Firefighters from Port Sheldon, Robinson, Olive and Georgetown townships also responded to the scene.
“More departments are back-filling our station in case another call comes in,” Gernaat added.
Consumers Energy was initially on site to disconnect a power cable that connected to the sports club.