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Ontonagon fire destroys 7 buildings

September 2, 2008

ONTONAGON - The cause of a fire, which began early Sunday morning and eventually became so large it destroyed seven buildings, required 12 fire departments to fight and took about 17 hours to put out, has yet to be determined.

Jerry Roehm, chief of the village of Ontonagon Volunteer Fire Department, said the first call to the department came in at 5:06 a.m.

The fire moved very quickly, Roehm said.

Article Photos

Photo by Ken Raisanen
Firefighters from a dozen fire departments responded to a blaze in downtown Ontonagon Sunday morning. No injuries were reported, but seven buildings were destroyed.

"By the time we got three blocks away (from the fire hall), it had already engulfed three buildings," he said.

As he was traveling to the scene, Roehm said he could see flames 40 feet above the buildings.

"It was huge," he said.

Roehm said, in a short period of time, six buildings on the west side of River Street were burning, and eventually were reduced to rubble.

A seventh building on the east side of the street caught fire from embers, and it was gutted, Roehm said.

"The wind picked up pretty high," he said.

On the west side of River Street on the block where the six buildings were destroyed, three buildings were saved, Roehm said.

Because the fire kept growing, Roehm said more fire departments were called to assist.

"We had them from as far as Twin Lakes," he said.

Although there were occupied apartments above some of the buildings destroyed, and one building was a house, Roehm said no residents were injured. One firefighter had a serious burn on one hand, and a few other firefighters had slight injuries.

The state fire marshal from Negaunee was at the fire scene Sunday, but the rubble was too hot for him to do an investigation, Roehm said, so he will be back today.

Most firefighters had left the scene by 10:30 p.m. Sunday, Roehm said, but a few returned Monday morning to make certain there were no flare ups.

Kurt Hauglie can be reached at



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