Fire Levels Much of Family Business

By: Tony Tagliavia Email
By: Tony Tagliavia Email

Smouldering wood and buckled steel stretches for acres. It's what Damon Glei had to watch his family business reduced to for the second time in 17 years.

"Two fires in anybody's lifetime is too much for anyone. And I'm only 31," Glei said.

The third-generation Hillsdale County businessman was watering at Glei's Orchards and Greenhouses when he saw a cloud of dust coming over the roof of a building on the grounds.

"I started walking to see what the heck's going on and saw smoke," he said. "Got there faster and already saw flames. I called 911."

It's hard to imagine that a pile of twisted steel was once a building, but it's the spot where family members say the fire started. They describe heat and flames inside an apple storage building so intense that the fire quickly spread through the 300 acre property in Fayette Township.

"As you can, see we ended up losing it all," Glei said.

That loss is particularly frustrating for the family because after the 1990 fire, they say the new building was built with fire doors and fire walls to keep flames from spreading.

The fire did appear to stop on the other side of the store building.

"About 90 percent of our greenhouse plants are still living," Glei said.

But for now, there's no way to water them. The Gleis also have no way to refrigerate an apple crop that'll be ready to be picked in about a month and some vegetables that are ready now. The family is talking with other orchards to figure out a way to save it all.

Those are the short term problems. For the long term, Damon Glei says his family business isn't going anywhere.

"Whether it's this big or smaller ... we'll be here," he said.

The Gleis plan to open 8 a.m. Thursday.


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