(Beaver Dam) Beaver Dam Fire Chief Alan Mannel says it took him a while to wrap his head around the fact that he would have to burn an entire 16-unit apartment building to the ground. Mannel joined us on WBEV’s Community Comment last week Tuesday (March 5), which marked one year since a fatal explosion at the Village Glen Apartments. Today (Friday, March 15) marks one year since the building was destroyed in a controlled burn. The homemade chemical discovered there was so volatile that attempts were first made to detonate the substance before the decision came down to burn the entire building to the ground.
“The terrorists don’t even use it unless they can’t come up with anything better,” Mannel says “because they tend to blow themselves up with it.”
With the recent release of documents related to the investigation, the public is just now learning that the feds had considered a controlled burn since day one of the eleven-day ordeal. Even so, Chief Mannel says when the final decision was made it was difficult for him to accept. He admitted that, at first, he thought the plan was to burn the individual apartment without damaging the rest of the building.
There was only one other time in the history of the country that an entire building was burned down to mitigate an explosive substance. Fire Departments frequently conduct controlled burns of buildings for training purposes but Mannel says that it is by far a different story when the personal property of 15 tenants is part of the plan.
“That was by far the toughest order I ever had to give was ‘light it’,” Mannel says.
The residents of Village Glen building 109 were never allowed back in their apartments to retrieve personal belongings. Mannel expressed deep regrets about the evacuation process his department conducted. His personnel apparently forgot to warn residents about taking with them the “four P’s” which are prescriptions, pets, purses and phones.
For a while, it looked like the tenants would lose everything in the controlled burn which was originally slated for March 14. Strong winds that day forced the postponement of the burn until March 15. Mannel says that gave the FBI Bomb Squad time to retrieve the most valuable items of each tenant.
“Things were progressing so rapidly that I believe it was the delay [from] the changing of the wind – one of many miracles that happened during this event – that allowed people to get some of their property back,” Mannel says.