Lincoln Wood Plant 2 struck by lightning, catches fire
Merrill Fire Department extinguishes flames
TINA L. SCOTT
It was Tuesday, Apr. 27, and Merrill was experiencing some early spring weather. Much of the City was still asleep.
“I woke up to shut the bedroom window because of the thunderstorm,” City resident Heidi Wiedenhoft said. “And the sky lit up, and I saw a lightning bolt hit what looked like on the factory.”
“The thunder was instant and shook the whole house,” she described. “That was sometime around 5:30 a.m. I just saw bright white (I didn’t have my glasses on). I didn’t see any flames or smoke. I live fairly close to the [Lincoln Wood] factory, on Wisconsin street.”
“After the lightning hit, my dog was scared, so I sat and tried to calm her,” Wiedenhoft said. “A short time later, a police car drove past my house with lights and sirens, and I heard other sirens about a block away.”
An employee discovers the fire
Adriana Wood is a Stock Chaser employed at Lincoln Wood Plant 2 on Chippewa Street. “I work on the other end of the building. My job is to put the frame parts on carts to send to the other Lincoln Wood Plant where the units are actually built,” she said.
“The lightning struck around 5:10 a.m. according to security footage,” Wood said, “but we don’t get there until about 5:30ish. We were all in the building by 6:00 a.m., but at 6:02, we were all rushed out.” Somewhere in between there is when an employee noticed the fire and reported it immediately.
“My supervisor was really good about getting everyone out and accounted for,” she added.
“The fire didn’t start building until about 6:08 when the window it was under broke, allowing oxygen in,” Wood said. “But by then everyone was out and away from the building.”
“The fire was in an older part of the building that has three floors, where the rest of the building only has one floor,” Wood said. “It holds some of our stock material, our species material, and our glue and rip line.”
Merrill Fire Department saves the building from major damage
Chief Josh Klug of the Merrill Fire Department confirmed that, “Just after 6:00 a.m., Merrill Fire & EMS was dispatched for a reported structure fire at 204 Chippewa St. This is one of Lincoln Wood Window Plants in the City of Merrill. Ladder-63, Engine-62, and Med-62 all responded immediately to the scene. Upon arrival, there was smoke coming from a third floor window. Incident command requested mutual aid from Corning, Pine River, Tomahawk, and Wausau to also respond to the fire.”
“Merrill firefighters used a ground ladder to access the third floor,” Chief Klug said. “After that, they were able to ventilate a window and extinguish the fire.”
Helmet cam footage confirms orange flames were building inside the building directly below a broken window on the third floor. Firefighters broke another window and used the hose to douse the fire most of the way before entering the structure. Once inside, they focused on putting out and dousing hot spots, pulling flammable wood materials housed in the area from the area that was burning, and monitoring the structure for any sign of flames re-igniting. (You can view the firefighter helmet camera footage from this incident on the Merrill Fire Department’s YouTube channel or their Facebook page.)
Since the Merrill Fire Department quickly brought the fire under control, “Mutual aid agencies were cancelled,” Chief Klug confirmed.
The Merrill Fire Chief confirmed the fire is believed to have been caused by a lightning strike from a storm that rolled through that morning. “Lighting may have struck a flag pole on the building,” he said. “The power and heat from lightning can obviously find something to start ignition.”
The damage to the Lincoln Wood building was limited to one wall, a window, a small section of floor, and a few boxes of wood strip materials getting ruined in the one room where the fire started, in addition to the window that was broken for Fire Department access, and some water damage from extinguishing the fire. The Merrill Police Department also assisted on scene.