BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – The fire that devastated the clubhouse at the Oakland Hills Country Club last month may have been caused by torches used by contractors who were installing rubber flashing, officials said Thursday.
In February, a fire overcame the historic Bloomfield Township country club, causing $80 million in damage, officials said. Most of the building and priceless pieces of memorabilia and art were destroyed.
During a news briefing Thursday, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office shared a surveillance video that shows contractors installing rubber flashing on a patio at the back of the building. The video was retrieved from the basement of the building and was submerged in water and had to be recovered, officials said. It is not timestamped.
Bloomfield Township fire Chief John LeRoy says on Feb. 17, the contractors were working to establish a seal between a patio and the rest of the clubhouse on the building’s east side. In the video, the workers can be seen using a torch to heat the material as it was being applied along the wall.
Based on the video, it appears that a torch caused something to catch fire. Workers can be seen using a garden hose to try to douse the smoke once they realized there was a problem.
You can watch the surveillance footage in the video player above.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said Thursday that the maintenance work appears to be the source of the fire, though there is still much investigating to be done. At this time, the cause of the fire does not appear to be intentional, officials said.
According to Bouchard, the thorough investigation is not expected to be completed for possibly a year. A joint investigation with the sheriff’s office, fire department and insurance agencies is reportedly expected to begin at the end of March.
Here are some more takeaways from the briefing.
Chief LeRoy said Thursday that country club employees called for help on Feb. 17 when they smelled smoke, though they did not know if or where a fire actually existed. Firefighters were not told about the contracted work taking place on the patio, and club employees were not fully aware of what work was going on, officials said.
When firefighters reached the scene, they were “trying to ascertain where that odor and where that smoke was coming from.”
In the surveillance video shown, which has been clipped and condensed by police, firefighters can be seen tearing down a wall and being hit with smoke from the blaze. Officials say that this was the first time that firefighters actually found and faced the fire.
The fire had been smoldering for “quite some time” before it was found, LeRoy said. The investigation has not yet revealed just how long the fire had been going before authorities were notified or before that wall was torn down.
How did the fire spread so much?
Officials say several details have yet to be nailed down, as the investigation is still in its early stages.
Still, the preliminary investigation shows that the building’s structure may have aided the spread of the fire. Part of the structure served as a “chimney of sorts,” officials said, and they believed that “chimney” helped the flames spread from their starting point.
The fire was reportedly inside of the walls, but investigators don’t know what exactly the walls are comprised of, and if the materials helped the fire spread more quickly or not. The entire building is constructed of wood. The materials are expected to be examined during the investigation.
Officials say the area near the believed source of the fire was comprised of large ballrooms with wide open spaces. The entire building totals 110,000 square feet, officials said.
The investigation is ongoing, and is expected to pick up toward the end of the month, when several different organizations plan to come together to learn more about the cause of the fire.
Sheriff Bouchard said Thursday that investigators hope to share a preliminary finding with the public sometime in April. The thorough investigation, however, could take a year to complete, he said.
The country club is reportedly planning to rebuild, though their timeline was unknown at this time.
You can watch the entire March17 news briefing below.
The historic Oakland Hills Country Club hosted several major golf events, like the 2008 PGA Championship won by Padraig Harrington. Team Europe defeated Team USA, led by Hal Sutton, in the Ryder Cup at the club in 2004. Tiger Woods played for the Americans.
In 2004, Team Europe, led by Bernhard Langer, defeated Team USA, led by Hal Sutton, in the Ryder Cup. Tiger Woods played for the Americans. The club was set to host the U.S. Women’s Open in 2031 and 2042.