The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Fire cause undetermined; director praises cooperation


February 27, 2018

IRONWOOD — Ironwood Public Safety Department Director Greg Klecker told the city commission Monday last Wednesday’s fatal downtown fire shows the need for mutual aid agreements.

Ironwood firefighters were assisted by the Hurley Fire Depar-tment and so many first responding agencies that Klecker said he is in the process of trying to compile a list of all that helped out.

“I’m proud of the way the fire was handled very proficiently and professionally, and proud of the other agencies, too,” Klecker said. “Lives were saved.” He added the people who saved lives — both in and out of his department — will be honored.

As to the cause of the fire that resulted in three deaths, Klecker said, “We’re trying to find out how this happened.” He said it may be difficult to find a cause because all that remains is a charred pile of rubble at 102-104 E. Aurora St.

Mayor Annette Burchell began the commission’s meeting with a long moment of silence for the three victims — Mark Arnold Verrete, 57; Patrick James Somerville, 51, and Levi Dean Watkins, 27, all of Ironwood.

Klecker noted fencing has been placed at the scene to keep people from getting too close to that rubble.

City manager Scott Erickson said he heard from the insurance company for the buildings that are owned by Chuck Hagstrom. It could take weeks to excavate the structure and reopen that stretch of Aurora Street, Erickson said.

Klecker said the rubble will be cleaned up “as soon as possible.”

A top priority is to make the scene safer by knocking in the walls.

Bob Tervonen, volunteer fire chief and the city’s utilities director, said, “It was a dangerous fire.” There’s a video online of a wall collapsing and nearly landing on a firefighter, who was pouring water on the burning building.

Tervonen, speaking of the firefighters, said, “We all went home safe. We all went to bed.”

Klecker said the volunteer fire department worked as a team with the IPSD.

Commissioner Jim Mildren came to tears when he talked about the “sadness” that fell over the town after the fire. He said he visited business owners and they were thankful that the entire downtown block was not destroyed.

Erickson said a First Friday celebration downtown will go on as planned Friday, to try to get the city back to normal, despite the closed street.

Community development director Tom Bergman said the First Friday event will address the fire in a manner to be determined.


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