Friday, November 4, 2011


Island Fire Chief Pete Nehlsen confers with resort owner Herb Gibson
on plan of action following return of equipment to
fire station.  Nehlsen and several men stayed on scene with one
truck as fire watch.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

By 9 a.m. this Friday morning, nearly all equipment and volunteer fire fighters had been released from the scene.  Fire Chief Peter Nehlsen, one truck, and a few men as fire watch remained.

"It was the smoke alarm that saved us," Herb said.  "Without the alarms, who knows?"    Herb, his wife Marianna, and one daughter, Sara, were sleeping when the smoke alarms sounded, around 4:30 a.m., and he immediately placed the fire call.  With soot on his lips and face, still very much absorbing the impact of events of the early morning, Herb expressed relief that his family was safe.

The building appears to have extensive damage, in particular the easternmost  portion of the building.  This section contained a dining room, game room, large living room area and a staircase leading to upstairs guest rooms.  These spaces were used primarily by resort guests, although the Gibson family welcomed many island visitors who made themselves at home for various club and private functions over the years.  The building's west end, also two stories, had been remodeled within the past ten years and was living quarters for the Gibson family.   From the exterior, it appears to have been spared from direct flame, but it will undoubtedly have smoke and water damage.

How important a role did the Island Fire Department's new ladder truck play in battling the blaze?

"The aerial pumper saved what is left of the building," according to Fire Chief Nehlsen.  "Unequivocally, without it, the rest of the building would be gone."  Heat had blown out window glass in the older section of the resort building.

Perry Jorgenson and Herb
examine damage.
And, from the accounts of several firemen I spoke with, each agreed that the timely arrival of island men and equipment, in particular the aerial truck, were key in knocking down the fire, keeping it from spreading and consuming the entire building.   Nehlsen, who was in the attic pulling down smoldering insulation when I arrived, said the entire attic the length of the building had been on fire at one point, but water directed downward from the aerial pumper stopped the advance in short order.

Nehlsen credited Liberty Grove's firefighters who, wearing Scott air packs, spelled Island firemen when it came to working inside the structure, assisting in extinguishing remaining hot spots, in particular the overhauling, tearing down of interior walls and ceilings.   "That's the dirty work," he said, "the real physical work."  Each LG fireman cycled twice through the structure's interior, he noted, before heading back to the mainland.

Nehsen had already contacted the State Fire Marshall to conduct  a post-fire investigation, routine procedure for such events, he said, and he expected an investigator would arrive later today.

New sheets of OSB were already stacked on the lawn, along with 2 x 4s and tarps, in preparation for closing the building's openings once the fire is out with certainty.   While the early morning  had been calm and frost was everywhere before sunup, southerly winds are anticipated this afternoon.  Island firemen will return around 3 pm to assist in buttoning up the remains of the structure.

-  Dick Purinton  - 11 a.m.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So sorry to read the news about the fire at Gibson's. I am glad to hear you are all safe and nobody was injured in any way. Prayers for strength during your rebuilding process.
Jill Toci (Trish's daughter)