Firefighters from six departments responded to the blaze reported at 2:48 a.m.
The alarm was sounded when someone in the area of 120th Avenue and Fillmore Street saw a big glow in the sky, according to Robinson Township Fire Chief Paul VanVelzen. The observer drove up the road until locating the fire.
VanVelzen said that the first firefighter was on the scene in less than five minutes and reported the 60-foot by 125-foot pole barn structure fully involved “from one end to the other.”
Firefighters from Robinson, Grand Haven, Crockery, Allendale, Blendon and Olive townships worked on an exterior attack, due to the extent of the fire, the chief said. The roof had already collapsed when he arrived a couple of minutes later.
VanVelzen said their main concern was to protect nearby greenhouses amounting to many millions of dollars worth of structure and inventory.
Nursery owner Dale Deppe said the destroyed building contained about 40 individual offices – many of them for salespeople.
Some of those salespeople were at tradeshows and had left their personal vehicles at the facility and their keys at their desks.
“Those are gone,” Deppe said as he looked at the frost-covered debris.
Firefighters were on the scene until about 8 a.m. cleaning up hot spots with the use of an excavator, VanVelzen said.
File cabinets were moved to an open area between buildings, but Deppe said they were junk.
He noted that all of the computer files were backed up daily and stored off site, so they would be able to continue business as soon as they set up offices in the building used for an employee lunchroom.
A locksmith was on site early in the morning trying to help get into company vehicles that were needed by employees to take product to trade shows.
Deppe said two rental vehicles already loaded with product couldn’t be used; that he was told new keys would have to be made.
The owner said all of the greenhouses on the property at the intersection of Lincoln and 120th Avenue are full of plants.
About 60 employees work at this time of the year – caring for plants, doing sales and preparing for the spring, Deppe said.
“In a couple of months we’ll have maybe 200 people working here,” he said.
Deppe said the original part of the office building was about 35 years old, which is how long the business has been operating. An addition on the building is 25 years old.
There was no sprinkler system in the building, he said.
An area next to the office building had previously been cleared of greenhouses in anticipation of adding on to the office building, the owner said.
He noted that they would clear out the debris as soon as possible to get started on a new office building.
Deppe said the building was insured.
VanVelzen said the cause of the fire is being called accidental at this time.
This is the fourth structure fire Robinson Township has handled in the last month and a half
VanVelzen said they had house fires on Autumn, Ott and Richland streets on the first three Wednesdays in December. The house on Richland burned down two days later.
VanVelzen said it turned out that the owner of the Richland house had bagged insulation removed after the first small fire, but had stored it inside the garage when he left for the weekend
Firefighters had removed the insulation around a burned ventilation fan, placed it on a tarp and taken it outside.
The owner bagged it and put it in the garage, despite a warning from the chief that there could be smoldering embers in the insulation, VanVelzen said.
The department also ran on two car fires.