Wires spark fires in St. Clair Shores during storms

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published August 26, 2021

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Two significant storms wreaked havoc in St. Clair Shores Aug. 9 and 11, leading to fires that burned a truck and a detached garage.

A storm the afternoon of Aug. 9 led to 18 calls for power lines down, as well as tree damage, said Fire Chief James Piper, but no property damage resulted from the strong winds. The same could not be said for the Aug. 11 storm, he said.

The first call for help came at 4:03 p.m., where a downed wire fell across a 2019 Dodge Ram in the 22000 block of Kramer Street.

“That energized wire ... caused some sparking and heat and shorting, and it caused the truck to catch on fire. Because there was so much going on at the time, DTE (Energy) was spread pretty thin and couldn’t get a crew out to us in time,” Piper said. “It needs to be de-energized before we start spraying water.

“Unfortunately, all we could do was watch this Dodge truck burn.”

There were no injuries as a result of that incident, but Piper said that was just the start to a night of calls as a result of the storm. Forty-three calls came in related to the storm between 4 p.m. Aug. 11 and 8 a.m. Aug. 12, he said, with a total of 62 calls during the 24-hour period beginning 8 a.m. Aug. 11. Thirty were directly related to problems with the electrical grid, and 28 were calls for help due to downed wires.

One detached garage caught on fire the morning of Aug. 12, hours after crews were first alerted to the fact that there was a downed high-voltage wire lying across three garages in the 22000 block of Chalon Street.

When it was first reported at 5:20 p.m. Aug. 11, there was no active arcing or sparking. DTE Energy was notified of the situation, and fire crews remained on the scene. There was some sparking at 7 p.m., so DTE Energy was notified that the situation had been upgraded, and Piper said they called for an additional engine to come to the scene.

“Then things settled back down,” he said. “There was no active fire (and firefighters were) checking things with the thermal imager.”

A subcontractor of DTE arrived on scene to relieve the firefighters, but at 8 the next morning, the homeowner noticed smoke coming from one of the garages.

“This is unfortunate and kind of tragic for the homeowners, but it’s hard to have any malice for DTE; I know they were running all day.”

DTE Energy crews could not make it back to the area in time to cut the power to the line before the garage burned, Piper said.

“Nothing else caught on fire, but that garage did end up being a total loss,” Piper said.

Over the course of the day, fire crews “handled themselves fantastically,” he said, responding to all of the downed power lines among regular EMS calls.

“Between our responders and DTE, we did pretty good and kept it at one truck and one garage as far as being affected,” he said.

Some customers across DTE Energy’s coverage area, including in St. Clair Shores, were still without power five days later, and generators could be heard running sporadically throughout the city. As of Aug. 18, however, no outages were showing in the St. Clair Shores area.