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No cause determined for $3M fire at Montgomery County Highway Department

Investigators have completed their report on a fire that destroyed all of Montgomery County's snow plow trucks last week, but the cause of the $3 million fire remains undetermined.

CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ind. (WTHR) - Investigators have completed their report on a fire that destroyed all of Montgomery County's snow plow trucks last week, but the cause of the $3 million fire remains undetermined.

The Nov. 6, 2016 fire destroyed one of the buildings at the Montgomery County Highway Department, located on Whitlock Avenue. The Indiana State Fire Marshal's office conducted the investigation.

Jeffrey Ramey with the Indiana State Fire Marshal's office said the cause of the fire has been ruled as undetermined. Ramey told Crawfordsville Fire Chief Scott Busenbark the ruling was due to the extensive amount of damage and that a cause could not be made because of the damage. According to Busenbark, the state has now closed its investigation of this incident.

With winter just around the corner, Montgomery County is now without any snow plow trucks, and that has schools and others scrambling for contingency plans.

The fire broke out at the Montgomery County Highway Department garage around 8 p.m. Sunday night (Nov. 6) and destroyed 13 trucks used for snow removal, along with two utility trucks, plus mowers and other equipment. No injuries were reported.

"It will affect everybody, because you have be able to get up and down the road in an ambulance and everything else," said resident Woody Woodrum.

"There's never a good time [to lose your snow removal equipment], but this is probably one of the worst times," agreed Montgomery County Commissioner Terry Hockersmith.


He estimates damage at more than $3 million, up from the initial estimate of $1.5 million. Other counties have come forward to help by loaning equipment until the county is able to get replacements. Contractors have also said they'd be available to help the clear the county's 831 road miles.

"Anything that we use daily was in that building," Highway Director Rod Jenkins told The Paper. "We had a couple old ones that were sitting outside, but all the good ones were in the building."

The county recently purchased two new trucks for more than $200,000 each, according to our news gathering partners at The Paper of Montgomery County, but those had not yet arrived and so were not inside the garage at the time of the fire.

The Crawfordsville Fire Department says that because of the high dollar amount of damage caused by the fire, they are turning the investigation over to the State Fire Marshal. Investigators told Hockersmith Monday they still weren't sure what sparked the fire, but he noted all of the trucks had radios.

"Anytime you got electric equipment on trucks, you're subject to shorts. We really don't know yet," he said.

The fire also destroyed the chain saw repair shop, lawn mowers and hand tools, but it's the loss of the plow trucks that's most worrisome.

When asked if the county would be ready for a snow in the next few weeks, Hockersmith said, "No, no we're not."

Hockersmith said it can take six- to eight months for new trucks to arrive.

"Certainly it's concerning, but the great thing about this community is everyone rallies together," said Scott Bowling, superintendent of the Crawfordsville School Corporation. His district is one of three in the county. He said about 1,800 of his students take the bus.

While Bowling said he's confident the county will wind up having the trucks it needs, his school corporation isn't taking chances. They've already been working on a contingency plan to keep kids safe when the snow starts to fly.

"Our spotters will be looking for how road conditions change from what they used to be in past years, so if those conditions do change we can anticipate more days off school. That starts us planning 'What does it look like if we have to add more days to the school year? How does that affect graduation? Those are the conversations we're having right now."