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Archives responds to fire, water damage

October 30, 2012
By GARRETT NEESE - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - Cleanup and rehabilitation efforts continue at the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections after a fire Friday.

Administrators from the archives and the J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library, where the archives is housed, gave details about the response to the fire and the timetable for reopening the archives at a press conference Monday.

The cause of Friday's fire is still unknown. Michigan State Police Fire Inspectors are on site.

Article Photos

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Michigan Technological University Archivist Erik Nordberg looks at files Monday in a drying room for materials damaged in a Friday fire at the Michigan Tech Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. The fire affected about 20 percent of the documents at the archives.

The fire damaged a few square yards; however, there was a broader 200-square-foot area of water damage. The floor was flooded, and several stacks of boxed records received heavy spray from sprinklers and fire hoses.

University archivist Erik Nordberg estimated fewer than 20 of the boxes will be damaged beyond recovery. The damaged items include mining records, records from the steelworkers union at White Pine and photographs.

The most sensitive documents, including genealogy records, were removed immediately before they could be damaged, he said.

"We're actually very pleased at the limited amount of damage we've seen right now," Nordberg said.

Nordberg said the quick response to the fire helped minimize the damage. While there are fire suppression systems that use a gas instead of water to neutralize fires, they are rare and expensive, he said.

"If the sprinkler hadn't gone off, the whole collection could have been in danger," he said.

The archives is still going forward with many of the programs it had planned, including the premiere at 6:30 p.m. Thursday of a new traveling exhibit on the 1913-14 copper mining strike.

The archives will remain closed until further notice. There may be some limited options for opening the archives in the next week or two, Nordberg said. However, he said it will be several weeks before the reading room will be reopened to the public.

As part of the archives' disaster plan, about 2 p.m., freezer trucks were called to retrieve the wettest documents. By 7:30 p.m., 688 boxes were headed to a freezer facility in Green Bay to retard mold. Representatives from BELFOR, a disaster recovery and property restoration firm, arrived Sunday and is arranging for the documents to be freeze-dried in Fort Worth, Texas, to remove moisture. BELFOR also set up a drying room in the library for items with less extensive damage.

The fire broke out around 11:30 a.m. Friday; Michigan Tech Public Safety and Police Services arrived at the scene immediately. The Houghton Fire Department was called at 11:50 and arrived within minutes; they fully extinguished the fire before 1 p.m.

University Librarian and Library Director Ellen Marks praised the "rapid, outstanding and supportive" response from fire, police and university personnel. Helping in the effort were library staff, faculty, students, Keweenaw National Historical Park personnel and community members, who reboxed and sorted materials and identified water-damaged items to be taken to Green Bay.

"They really saved the vast majority of the resources," she said.

Questions can be directed to 487-2505 or email



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