March 22 • 08:37 AM

Arson ruled out in grandstand fire

September 02, 2009
IMLAY CITY — Arson is not believed to be the cause of Wednesday morning's fire that destroyed the R.A. Grettenberger grandstands.

Imlay City Fire Chief Kip Reaves said the investigation by Michigan State Police is ongoing but they've already determined there were no signs of entry.

Today, (Thurs., Sept. 3) an investigator with the school district's insurance company and state police investigator were on scene. Reaves said they will first look for the origin of the fire and then survey the debris for a possible cause.

Reaves said a W. First Street neighbor reported the blaze around 3:15 a.m., saying she could see and smell smoke and heard crackling from the area.

Imlay City Police Officer Kevin Homer was first on scene and relayed to firefighters that flames had already spread from the middle of the heavy timber structure to the roof. Reaves said that by the time his department was on scene the 22 by 50 foot structure was fully involved.

The Goodland Township Fire Department and Lapeer County Sheriff's Department assisted on scene.

Reaves said firefighters began to suppress the fire but their efforts were complicated when the roof collapsed. A 'pancake effect' was created as a result.

"Having a burning surface on top of another burning surface (made) it hard to get to the middle of the fire," Reaves said.

"This collapse also made the building unsafe structurally, so firefighters were pulled back to a safe zone and fought the fire from the outside."

Reaves said a damage estimate has yet to be determined.

A dedication ceremony for the newly restored 1930s era grandstands had been scheduled for Sept. 12. The Imlay City Alumni Association undertook the nearly two year campaign, raising more than $33,000 to save the structure which had been deemed structurally unsafe.

Reaves said the first responders were well aware of the efforts to restore the structure while battling the flames.

"We all feel bad about the fire and what was lost. Many of us grew up here, played on those fields and had a history with the grandstand," Reaves said.

"As the morning turned to daylight, many residents, city officials, school officials and former students came to look at the damaged structure. We saw a lot of tears."

Imlay City Schools Superintendent Gary Richards said the area would be roped off but wouldn't affect Thursday night's football game or traffic through that area.

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