An intense, wind-blown fire destroyed the shop and offices of the NEPECO oil field service in Byron Sunday afternoon.
The Lovell Volunteer Fire Dept. was called out at 4:17 p.m. and battled the persistent blaze for more than six hours.
“I was on scene at 4:24, and the fire was into the attic and ceiling and the building was already full of smoke,” Chief Jim Minchow said.
Twenty Lovell firemen responded, and members of the Deaver-Frannie Fire Dept. stood by at the fire hall in Lovell in case there was another fire call.
Minchow said the ignition point was on the west side of the building about midway toward the back along the bottom of the wall. He said the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
“It went up two separate walls at a T (inside), so it was in two separate rooms on either side of the interior wall,” Minchow said.
Once inside, the fire found a shop filled with tools, lathes, presses, acetylene bottles, oil, tires, filters, bearings, old records and more, Minchow said. A bursting acetylene bottle was one of two explosions that occurred during the blaze, Minchow added.
Owner Chad Petrich was able to move equipment away from the building, Minchow said, saving all of the large equipment vital to the operation of the company.
Minchow said firemen entered the building and fought the blaze from the inside at first, but the firemen could “hear it popping and burning over the top of them. They could see the fire but they couldn’t get to it because of the (interior metal) wall.”
Firemen put fans at the south end of the building and tried to push the fire back where it had already burned, hoping to save the office, but the wind picked up and overcame the fans.
“The wind was blowing 5 to 10 miles per hour, maybe stronger, and it was too much,” Minchow said. “It blew it (the fire) clear through that building. The smoke was so thick it wasn’t safe to have our guys inside.
“It got into the rafters and was roaring over the top of our guys. It wasn’t safe to be inside. The wind stiffened and was more powerful than our fans. It blew the fire right back to the south and pushed it through the building.”
Still, the firemen battled on, spraying gallons of water into the building from windows. But the fire continued to advance and the metal roof began to collapse as the fire moved forward, eventually reaching the office.
“We pulled ‘em out when the wind shifted,” Minchow said. “We could see we were not going to save that building and went to a defensive battle. We called Rocky Mountain Power, and they came down and killed the power (producing an outage in Byron and Lovell). They checked the wiring (in front of the building) and re-routed it and got it back on (in the communities). We didn’t want it to come down the next time the wind blew.
“We fought a defensive battle from a safe distance. We never ran out of water. Water was never an issue. We had to reposition the trucks.”
Firemen fought the blaze for six hours, then left a truck at the site all night to hit hot spots.
“I’d like to thank the sheriff’s office and the search and rescue, the Byron police and the Deaver-Frannie firemen for all of the extra help,” Minchow said. “And the ambulance crew. As our guys came out they checked ‘em out and gave them oxygen to keep them going.
“There was great teamwork by everybody involved. It’s sad they lost a building and tools, but I’m thankful nobody was injured.”
Minchow also thanked the Town of Byron crew for checking pumps and making sure water and hydrants were running properly.
“They kept us in water,” he said.
by David Peck