Fifth Third Ballpark fire caused by space heater

11:43 PM, Jan 3, 2014   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: PHOTOS: Fifth Third Ballpark in flames - 1/3/14
Photo from Hannah Saunders

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. (WZZM) -- A space heater used by a work crew sparked a massive fire that destroyed much of Fifth Third Ballpark.

Plainfield Township Fire Chief, Dave Peterson said the construction crew was working in a suite Friday morning when the heater caused a small fire. The construction workers thought they had extinguished the fire, but flames kindled in the attic and quickly spread throughout the first base concourse.

The fire was reported around 11 a.m. and within an hour, there was a large roof collapse, destroying one third of the concourse on the first base side and 11 to 12 skyboxes.

Crews had a difficult time fighting the fire because of the extreme cold. The temperature was 10 degrees when the fire began and firefighters struggled with freezing water lines. Chief Peterson said firefighters were only able to access two hydrants on the ballpark property and crews had to use hundreds of yards of hose to access outlying hydrants.

30 minutes into the fire, firefighters were ordered to evacuate and take a defensive posture because of collapsing light poles and exterior walls. By 2 p.m., the bulk of the fire was knocked down, but thick white smoke was continuing to drift along U.S. 131. from hot spots.

MDOT flashed messages along U.S.131 cautioning drivers to slow down, but not to stop to gawk at the fire.

Opening day at Fifth Third Ballpark is in three months and Denny Baxter, the West Michigan Whitecaps managing partner is confident baseball will be played at the site in 2014. "We will rebuild; we will play baseball this spring," Baxter told WZZM 13.

Ron Colangelo, vice president of communications for the Tigers, said the Whitecaps made the Tigers aware of the situation this morning.

"We feel for them because they're an extension of our baseball family, and we certainly wish them the best," Colangelo said.

The Tigers later put out a statement on the fire: "We certainly hope for the best for all parties involved. The Tigers look forward to attending the Whitecaps annual baseball banquet later this month as part of the annual Detroit Tigers Winter Caravan."

Fifth Third Ballpark opened in 1994 as Old Kent Park and changed to its current name in 2000.

The Michigan Brewers Guild, which is planning a February event at the ballpark issued this statement:

A statement from Scott Graham, Executive Director - Michigan Brewers Guild

"The Michigan Brewers Guild is certainly concerned about our upcoming beer festival at the Fifth Third Ballpark but our first concern is for all of our friends at the West Michigan Whitecaps. Our thoughts and prayers are with the staff at the ballpark today and we will asses what it means to the Guild after the damage is under control and can be assessed. Because our event is held outside the ballpark in the parking lot we are hopeful that it will turn out well. We will do our best to keep fans of MI beer informed in coming days as we learn more."

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