East Tawas picks up after massive fire rips through buildings - WNEM TV 5

East Tawas picks up after massive fire rips through buildings

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EAST TAWAS, MI (WNEM) -

Fire crews battled a raging fire in East Tawas early Tuesday morning that burned overnight.

The fire destroyed a historic building downtown and people in the small community still can't believe the iconic building is gone.

East Tawas resident Mary Doak is in shock.

"I went, 'oh, it can't be!'" said Doak, who is stunned the fire ripped through the structure, which had stood in downtown since 1887. "It made our hearts kind of break."

Just after midnight, fire crews were called to the building at the intersection of State and Newman streets. When they arrived they knew they were in for a long night.

"We had heavy smoke showing, coming out from between the floors and up the walls, coming out from the ease at the top" explained East Tawas Fire Chief Bill Deckett. "Shortly after we started setting up lines, the windows broke out and the flames started coming out." 

>>Click here to see photos of firefighters battling the blaze<<

It took three hours to get the flames under control. By then, the building, which is home to a law office and children's clothing store, was destroyed. At one point, every fire department in Iosco County was on the scene. But that wasn't enough. A crew from neighboring Arenac County had to be brought in.

Deckett told TV5 this wasn't just any fire.

"It was one of the big ones," said Deckett.

"It's miserable, the fire was burning, everything's covered in ice," said a firefighter at the scene.

That ice was caused by the sub-freezing temperatures that crews had to deal with when fighting the fire. It had an immediate effect.

"One of our trucks was frozen by the time we got here, but luckily we had enough we could put enough lines on one truck to fight the fire," said Deckett.

You couldn't help but notice the way the frozen water coated everything around the burned-out building - lampposts, street signs and trees. Firefighters manning the ladder hose had to strap themselves onto the ladder so they wouldn't slide down the icy steps. 

Another situation fire crews have to be aware of in sub-zero temperatures is the pavement that has pure ice on top, making it very tough for them to find their footing.

Firefighters weren't just trying to put out the fire in the building; they were also trying to protect phone lines.

"We had to keep one hose line on those phone wires or we could've lost phone service for the entire county," Deckett said.

No one was in the building and no firefighters were hurt battling the blaze. Officials tell WNEM that both the Freel Law office building and the Chick-N-Dots clothing store sustained extensive smoke and water damage. Witnesses said that the building that was on fire collapsed.

Meanwhile, Doak is still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that downtown is going to look a lot different after a piece of its history is gone forever.

"It's been here for the 41 years that I've been here," said Doak. "It's just going to seem so strange not to see it there anymore."

The state fire marshal says a cause for the fire may not be known until next week.

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