Cause of Glenhaven fire still undetermined

GLENWOOD CITY — Although the State Fire Marshal has completed the on site investigation of the fire that destroyed Glenhaven’s new skilled nursing facility, which was still under construction, a report as to the cause had not been issued as of Tuesday’s press time.

No injuries to emergency personal or Glenhaven residents were reported.

 The new facility was to be comprised of four residential households, each containing eleven single-person rooms equipped with full bathrooms.

The two households that faced East Oak Street (south) are of two-story construction. The lower level built of concrete block was to house administration, nursing and medical records offices. A physical/occupational therapy suite, conference/board room, a small cafe, an area for future day care, a new entrance lobby with dramatic 17-foot high windows that offered a view to the northeast, facility storage and a leasable rental space were also included in the lower level.

The two north households were single-story construction set on a foundation and concrete slab. Both were completely destroyed by the flames leaving nothing but a few charred timbers and ash. All construction equipment inside the buildings was also destroyed.

All four households as well as the lower levels included an in-floor heating system.

The $9.65 million dollar project would have added some 50,000 square feet to the Glenhaven/Havenwood complex. The construction on the building started last June and it was expected to be completed by mid-June of this year.

Plans then called for the present nursing home facility to be remodeled into a Community Based Residential Facility (CBRF), offering extended care in 17 efficiency and one-bedroom apartments. The new facility is attached to the west end of the current facility on the north side of East Oak Street.

Last Tuesday morning’s fire is a set back not only to Glenhaven but the entire community and surrounding areas.

The fire was called in at around 5 a.m. Tuesday morning January 14, but a video camera at the construction site showed that the fire may have been burning for several hours before it was noticed. A Glenhaven employee that was coming in for her early-morning shift noticed the flames on the south households and 9-1-1 was notified.

The county dispatcher paged out the Glenwood City Fire and Ambulance at 5:04 a.m. and then paged the United Fire out of Woodville, Baldwin and Hammond as well as Boyceville for Mutual Aid to assist. It was followed shortly by the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) which activated more fire departments. Thirty-seven departments sent equipment and firefighters to Glenwood City. It is estimated that more than 170 firefighters were on the scene during the fire, plus 14 EMTs and law enforcement and MABAS personnel. Their report indicated 81 pieces of emergency apparatus and 233 people were involved in the incident.

As the MABAS fire companies began to arrive, they took over the fire duties from the first-in firefighters to allow them time to rest and recover before returning to the fire. The lobby of Glenhaven became a gathering point for the firefighters to take a break for food and beverages.

Four ladder fire trucks responded to the fire, one each from Menomonie, Baldwin, River Falls and Amery. The most noticeable ladder was from Menomonie and it was just off Oak Street and directed its large water stream into the burning area of the building. A second ladder was at the rear of the facility.

With pumpers taking water from four of the city’s fire hydrants, it quickly became evident that the water utility could not support the amount of water being drawn for firefighting operations. The Insurance Service Office has rated the water utility with the ability to supply 2,195 gallons of water per minute for three hours. But, with water flows in excess of that amount, it was clear that water had to be trucked into the fire scene.

Departments that help battle the blaze included: Boyceville, Menomonie, Durand, Elk Mound, Prairie Farm, United Fire (Baldwin, Woodville, and Hammond), Hudson, River Falls, New Richmond, Clear Lake, Deer Park, Spring Valley, Ellsworth, Amery, Colfax, Chippewa Fire District, Sand Creek, Cadott, Roberts-Warren, Rock Creek, Ridgeland, Somerset, Eau Claire, Altoona, Fairchild, Fall Creek, Augusta-Bridge Creek, Tilden, Bloomer, Anson, and New Auburn.

EMS  personnel and agencies that were on standby at the scene came from: Glenwood City, Baldwin, New Richmond, River Falls, Boyceville, and Menomonie. Assisting agencies included Glenwood City Police, St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office, St. Croix County Dispatch, Dunn and Eau Claire County Dispatch Centers, Mike’s Auto Body of Glenwood City, Day and Night Towing, the City of Glenwood City Public Works Department, and MABAS units.

Fire fighting efforts were hampered by heavy snow fall that had begun the previous evening and dropped four to six inches of snow. Glenwood City and private plow companies had to continuously clear snow and ice from the scene to keep access open for emergency vehicles.

There were reports of some emergency vehicles losing control and ending up in ditches while trying to respond to the fire scene in Glenwood City.

More than half million gallons of water

The city’s utility pumped 360,000 gallons to the fire, 300,000 gallons from well number three which is located two blocks from Glenhaven at Hinman Park and another 60,000 gallons from well two which is located near the Community Center. Another 159,000 gallons was trucked in from the Boyceville water utility and about 60,000 gallons was pumped from Tiffany Creek.

Law enforcement officers from Glen wood City and the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office controlled access to Sixth Street via Maple, Pine, and Oak Streets. Water tenders delivering loads to the scene lined Sixth Street next to Hinman Park. Emergency vehicles used Pine and Maple Streets for ingress and egress from the fire scene.

Fire burned for several hours

Although Samantha Kottke, an environmental services assistant at Glenhaven was the first to report the fire around 5 a.m. that morning, extensive review of the video from the on-site construction camera that kept the community up-to-date on the building’s progress via Glenhaven’s website, showed that the fire had actually broken out several hours before.

Louie Tuma, vice president of operations for Royal Construction, Inc. of Eau Claire, the project’s design builder and general contractor, told the board later Tuesday evening in an emergency meeting, that State Fire Marshals, during their study of the video, had discovered that smoke coming from the north households was evident around midnight. The video also showed that flames had broken through the roof around 3:45 am.

Fire walls in the roof trusses had not been completed so the fire spread quickly throughout the roofing system and consumed all four households.

Ben DeGross, a Glenwood City resident and one of Glenhaven’s maintenance technicians, had come into work at 3 a.m. to begin clearing snow from the walks and drives at Glenhaven and Havenwood. DeGross reported that he did not notice any fire or smoke when he reached the front of Glenhaven around 4 a.m. He said that he did not realize that the new construction was on fire until Kottke came driving into the parking lot and said that the building was on fire and entered Glenhaven and had staff dial 9-1-1.

Glenwood City Firefighters were on scene within a few minutes but it became clear quite quickly that additional resources would be needed to battle the conflagration. Calls for assistance from surroundings departments and MABAS were made.

Residents safety maintained

Residents in the west wing of Glenhaven’s current facility were moved to the dining area and commons by staff and volunteers as a precaution during the initial hours of the fire.

No injuries were reported and most of the residents with rooms in the west wing were able to return to their rooms later that afternoon.

Eau Claire firefighters equipped with special equipment did test the air throughout the current building to make sure that it did not contain any noxious gases or fumes reported Glenhaven’s administrator David Prissel.

Ventilation was used, said Prissel.

There was also an ammonia scare around 9 a.m. said Prissel but that was resolved by 1 p.m. when it was discovered to be a cooling unit leaking freon. Once removed from the new building the issue resolved itself.

Once the safety of all residents and staff were assured, normal daily activities were resumed as much as possible according to Prissel.

Prissel also reported that water runoff from the fire fighting did breach Glenhaven’s northwest basement Tuesday morning filling the old laundry area with about two and a half to three and a half feet of water. But fire crews were able to pump the water out of the basement before it did any damage and the City of Glenwood City dumped sand to create a berm in back of Glenhaven to divert the water away from the building.

Investigation Continues

Two State fire marshals were on the fire scene by Tuesday afternoon and again the following day before wrapping up their on-site investigation.

Prissel said that they have completed their initial criminal investigation but no cause or report has yet been released and is not expected to be for a few weeks. The State Fire Marshals are under the administration of the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

West Bend Mutual Insurance Company has the builders risk insurance for Royal Construction and began its preliminary investigation into the fire Monday, January 20.

Prissel noted that this investigation could take up to three weeks to complete.

The site is currently fenced off from the public  and all subcontractors of the project and will remain closed until the investigation is concluded.

Glenhaven to be rebuilt

“The building will be rebuilt,” said an emphatic Prissel. “But from what point is yet to be determined.”

An independent analysis on the entire structure will be completed, said Prissel, to determine what can, if anything, be salvaged. He expects that process to begin within a month or so.

There is no timetable currently set to begin the rebuilding process but the board of directors, Royal Construction, and the insurance carriers will be working together to create one in the coming month.

“Thankful for the outcome, saddened by the loss of the new building,” Prissel said. “But Glenhaven will be rebuilt, bigger and better than ever, it will just take us a bit longer to get there.”

“Enormous thanks,” Prissel said. “Little communities show their colors when people are in need and this is one of those times when Glenwood City, the Boyceville area and just by the shear list of individuals that showed up to help and donate. This is one of the reasons that I not only work but live in small communities.”

“The love of one another comes out and comes to its true form when individuals are in crisis,” concluded Prissel. “Thank God that that happened and that everyone is safe.

A Glenhaven Recovery Fund has been established at the Hiawatha National Bank in Glenwood City. Inquires on how to donate can be found on the Glenhaven website:

AgStar Financial, one of the project’s financing companies, has announced that it will be presenting Glenhaven with a $10,000 Fund for Rural America Grant to help in the recovery.