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Fire extinguished at demolition site

Becky Vargo • Jun 5, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Power was supposed to be turned off at the site of a demolition project in downtown Spring Lake.

“But apparently it’s still on,” said worker Aaron Gleeson, as he watched firefighters battle a fire scene Tuesday afternoon at 110 W. Savidge St.

Gleeson, an employee with Specialized Demolition, said he was operating an excavator on a building that was being removed for the development of the Epicurean Village. He took a swipe with his excavator and saw sparks fly, and said he immediately backed up and jumped off the excavator.

“They said the power was off,” Gleeson said, as fire trucks rolled into the parking lot. “I hit it with the machine and apparently it's not off. There was just a big flash.” 

Village Administrative Assistant Mary Paparella had just left Village Hall for her lunch break when she heard and saw what she described as “fireworks” coming from the site. Paparella called 911 at 1:03 p.m.

Spring Lake Township Clerk Carolyn Boersma said she was working at the time in her first-floor office at Village Hall, just a few buildings to the east.

“I was sitting in my office and heard sirens,” she said. “Curious George here, I got up, looked out the window and the truck stopped. I ran out the door and smelled smoke, and said, 'Everyone, there's a fire.'” 

Firefighters from four area departments responded to a call of a power box on fire with the fire expanding into some of the debris.

Gleeson said there were only two people working on the demolition at the time and they were not injured. There was nobody inside the building. 

Popping and small explosive sounds were accompanied by bursts of fire as firefighters poured water on the blaze from a distance.

M-104 was blocked off in front of the building so fire trucks could park there. Traffic was detoured onto Liberty Street between Jackson and Buchanan streets for nearly two hours. The road was opened to traffic again at about 2:45 p.m.

“It appears to be a live electrical line still intact,” Spring Lake Fire Chief Brian Sipe said.

The chief noted that Consumers Energy was on the scene and planned to cut the power to the entire block to make sure no electricity was going to the fire scene.

“Our primary focus right now is safety,” Sipe said Tuesday afternoon. “We can’t make any progress until we are absolutely sure the power is out.”

Once the power was cut, the demolition crew moved the excavator back into place to pull the debris away from the building so firefighters could make sure the fire was completely out. They soaked the debris with foam to make absolutely sure.

“Our biggest thing is exposure,” Sipe said in explaining why they would extinguish a fire in a building already being torn down. “We have to protect the area around it.”

The former Braak’s Bakery building was flanked by an open courtyard to the west and another building to the east that is slated to be demolished. Tight on the east side of that building is the Village Hall.

Because of the fencing around the construction site, construction on Exchange Street and vehicles parked in the area, Sipe said there were problems with getting the fire trucks close to the building.

The building has been unoccupied for many years. The most recent business on the main floor was the Phoenix Deli-Café. Prior to that, Braak’s Bakery occupied the location for many years. The bakery was also the site of a large fire 22 years ago.

Assisting the Spring Lake Fire Department at the scene were firefighters from the Crockery Township and Ferrysburg departments, as well as the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety. Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office deputies directed traffic around the scene. 

Building history

In 1903, Jacob Braak opened the Spring Lake Bakery in the former blacksmith shop at 110 W. Savidge St. Not long after that, the name was changed to Braak's Bakery.

After Jacob's death in 1949, his sons Reynard, Albert and Arnold took over the business.

In 1990, Ron Braak, son of Albert, sold the bakery to Raymond and Emily Bielak.

On March 9, 1997, the building was destroyed by fire. By 1998, the Phoenix Deli-Cafe was built on the site and has since been purchased by entrepreneur Kim VanKampen, who plans to redevelop that portion of Savidge Street with a destination restaurant, upper-level condominiums, a cafe and retail stores.

Tribune reporter Marie Havenga contributed to this story.

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