7:30 pm Sunday.
The smell of maple was now permeating the sugar house. The steam was rising towards the open cupola doors, and we were filling the firebox every 8 minutes to keep the rolling boil going. Yes, we need to fill the fire every 8 minutes. This is definitely a labor of love. Around 8 pm we were able to start drawing off the first batch of finished gold. And a little more about every 10 minutes. About 8:45 we started letting the fire burn down for the night. The plan was to spend a full day Monday boiling anticipating some warm weather and to make sure we had a good batch ready for Tuesday mornings tour. We cleaned things up for the evening and headed inside. As usual, I went out a little after 10 pm to make sure the fire was out, and to check the pans and sap flow. Shutting off the valve from the storage tank so that just in case a leak developed somewhere, we didn’t lose our sap.
All was quiet except for some teenage deer in the yard.
Monday April 10, 2023 - 4:55am
"JENNIFER, WAKE UP, THE SUGAR HOUSE IS ON FIRE!"
Mother nature woke me about 4, and after I couldn’t get back to sleep. Maybe it was the visions of maple dancing in my head, or the excitement of the boil. Reviewing check lists for the day, and thoughts of the event to come the next day. I decided to get up and get started. Thinking I would go out to the sugar house, and get everything prepped so that after breakfast Jennifer could light up the evaporator.
Close to 5am, I got up and seeing a flickering through the window I saw the flames at the back corner of the sugar house. My normally calm disposition changed in an instant. Disbelief, panic, and the “OH #$%&”
Jennifer was awake and dressed in an instant, I was on the phone to 911, getting the fire department alerted. Lists going thru my head and Jennifer's, what do we save, wait, move, (We do not have a water source in the sugar house, and use containers to carry it up). Jennifer went ahead on up to survey how far the fire had progressed. As soon as I arrived, she directed me to grab the recently filled propane tanks from the wood shed to get them out. Looking inside, the fire was contained to the cupola located above the evaporator. Burning debris was falling into the evaporator and being extinguished by the cooled syrup in the boiler. I was able to quickly go in and grab the propane tank by the finishing pan. There was almost no smoke inside as it was all in the roof area at this point. The fire cast an eery orange glow filled light through the door and windows. Within minutes, I turned around to the first fire truck arriving. The Chief was there beginning the plan of attack. Then another truck, and another truck. A main hose was already being stretched out and firemen seemed to appear all around us.
I turned around to answer some questions for the Chief, and the next thing I knew, two firefighters were already hitting the fire with water from below. In another few minutes they were attacking the fire from outside. Within minutes, the flames were extinguished, and the I think there were 2 firefighters on the roof pulling the cupola over to prevent it from falling down into the building. The appropriate but restraint use of water prevented significant amount of damage inside. In fact, the pile of boxes with new bottles ready for filling were less than 4 feet away from the falling ember and water and none of them received water damage.
The team then went into check mode, looking for any hot spots, or potential flareups. Since I have lived in this community, I have always had faith in the local fire department. I have now had the opportunity to witness them in action and can not praise them enough. Every member of this team knows their job, and what each other is doing. As a result, there is very minimal damage to the main structure, and the evaporator and related equipment is safe. By 6:30 am everything was packed up, and we were looking for coffee, and daylight to assess just what the damage was.
Tuesday morning. The Chief was back to conclude an investigation. We had already begun the cleanup, joined by another producer (Andy) and his family, we cleaned out the evaporator, the burnt pieces of trussing that had fallen and the initial loose pieces from the roof. The final result, this was not a chimney fire. This was a rogue spark that had come from the chimney and lodged against the (what was beautiful) wood siding of the cupola. Smoldering for many hours before igniting. A very very unique set of circumstances. His overall comment was that we had in fact exceeded fire and building code regulations with our construction of the building and as a result, the fire didn’t spread as quickly, likely saving it from complete demolition.
We are grateful for limited fire and water damage to equipment and the structure. Unfortunately, the repairs needed to create a safe space required us to cancel all tours and ended our boiling season. Another local producer has offered their sugar house to finish the remaining sap that we have collected and another will supply us with the remaining syrup needed to complete our orders for this year.
Stay tuned for further updates in the days to come.
Thank you again for your prayers and support.
Michael & Jennifer
WATCH “Maple Syrup Building Fire” video here for more images.