The cause of a fire that ravaged Nelson’s Speed Shop in the early morning hours of Friday remains unknown.
About 75 firefighters from 11 departments began clearing the scene at 11:30 a.m. Friday — 10 hours after the fire was reported at 1:30 a.m. The fire started in the back of the business on the west side of the building where the warehouse is located on M-91 just north of Greenville.
Nelson’s Speed Shop has served the Greenville area for more than 40 years by selling snowmobiles, outdoor power equipment, ATVs, lawnmowers and more.
Trever Slater, a specialist sergeant with the Michigan State Police 6th District Headquarters Fire Investigation Unit in Rockford, visited the scene Friday morning. He and another fire marshal took aerial photographs of Nelson’s Speed Shop from a helicopter as the chopper circled the site several times.
Slater declined to comment on the cause of the fire or whether it was suspicious at this time.
The Montcalm Township Fire Department was the first to respond to the scene. They were assisted by 10 other fire departments — the Greenville Department of Public Safety, Belding, Day Township, Courtland Township, Lakeview District, Maple Valley Township, Oakfield Township, Stanton Community, Sheridan Community and Spencer Township. The Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office and Advanced Life Support were also at the scene. Youngs Environmental Clean-up Inc. from Grand Rapids also responded with two trucks for hazardous materials and environmental spills.
“It’s really hard to tell,” said Montcalm Township Fire Chief Clif Dickinson of the cause of the fire. “The fire was just so destructive.”
Anne Burrows of Byron Center, a Red Cross Disaster Action team leader, received a phone call about the fire at 3:20 a.m. Friday. She was at the scene by 5 a.m. to pass out water, Gatorade, protein bars and more to hot and exhausted firefighters. Burrows also called the Salvation Army to assist.
“We’ll hang out here as long as we need to,” she said.
Nyla Cook of Greenville is a Red Cross Disaster Action team member. She had a shorter drive than Burrows.
“I was out here in 20 minutes,” Cook said. “This is major. It’s awful. I’ve never seen anything this large or devastating.
“And it’s their second go-around,” she added of the Nelson family and employees. “We feel so bad for them.”
Cook was referring to a Sept. 17, 2001, fire that was set around 1:40 a.m., destroying the previous Nelson’s Speed Shop at the same location.
Richard Crew and Stewart David Barron were convicted by a federal grand jury in Grand Rapids on one count of arson and one count of conspiracy to commit arson in that fire. Crew was sentenced to 84 months in prison, while Barron was sentenced to 63 months in prison. Both men were also ordered to pay about $4 million in restitution.
Thomas Klein, owner of Tom’s Cycle in St. Johns, was sentenced to five months in federal prison, two years of supervised release and five months of home confinement for misprision (knowledge/failure to report) of a federal arson. He was ordered to pay $500,000 in restitution.
Nelson’s Speed Shop was rebuilt about a year after the 2001 fire. The owners and employees declined to comment Friday.
“I’d say they’re holding up, but it’s emotional,” said Burrows of the Nelson family and employees.
Brad Cross of Arkansas arrived at Nelson’s on Friday morning to drop off a semi truck shipment of nine new ATVs from Mercer in Louisville, Ky.
“At first I thought there was a funeral,” said Cross of the numerous vehicles lining M-91 near East Montcalm Cemetery, which is just across the road from Nelson’s Speed Shop. “I pulled in here and thought what did I get myself into?”
Despite the business being destroyed, Cross dropped off the ATVs and continued on his way. He had to make another delivery in Clinton Township that day.
A similar fire at a similar business took place earlier this month.
According to the Muskegon Chronicle, Metric Motorsports in Fruitport Township sustained major damage in a fire around 9:30 p.m., June 4. The business sells scooters, motorcycles and ATVs and also features a showroom and a repair shop.
The cause of that fire has not been released.