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Holly businesses and residents vow to recover from fire

Holly — The streets of Holly’s quaint business district were filled Wednesday with firemen, business owners and the curious just wanting a view of the fire damage that totaled one building and caused serious damage to two adjacent structures.

As officials toured buildings and sifted through debris for a cause of the fire, which broke out at the Battle Alley Arcade Antiques Mall, between Broad and South Saginaw streets, families set up folding chairs under shade trees or stood respectfully behind ”crime scene” tape, clicking photos with their cellphone cameras.

The fire, fueled by wind and highly flammable material in the antique stores, quickly ignited wood beams, raced across rooftops, burned part of the Holly Hotel, two floors of Andy’s Place and part of the Moose Lodge. It also threatened to spread to adjacent buildings.

The fire remains under investigation, Holly Fire Marshal Jeremy Watson said, and some buildings have fire-damaged walls that could potentially collapse.

“We’ve determined where it (fire) started and (are) monitoring it to make sure it's out,” Watson said. “But finding out why it started and total damages will require more time.”

Watson and others, like Holly Police Chief Jerry Narsh, said thanks to quick work by one of Narsh’s officers and others, including 17 fire departments, the fire was contained to a few buildings in the downtown.

“There were five firemen who suffered heat exhaustion but all have been treated at a hospital and released,” Narsh said. “The fire was discovered around 4 p.m. (Tuesday) by one of my officers who called it in and started evacuating people from all buildings in the immediate area. It could have been worse.”

The historic Holly Hotel, an 1800-era Victorian-style structure and restaurant that  survived two fires in 1913 and 1978, neighbored the Arcade Antiques. The fire burned through a section of a third-floor roof and attic, according to hotel owner George Kutlenios.

“The fire department did a great job of limiting the fire,” said Kutlenios, surveying the outside of the building he’s owned for 43 years. “We have a fire sprinkler system, and I was told that helped keep our building from more damage. The one (fire) in ’78 destroyed about 85% of it (hotel), and it took two years to rebuild and reopen. This is only 25% of the building, so I suspect we will be back in operation within a year.”

Like others, Kutlenios praised firefighters’ efforts to contain the fire, some taking time to safeguard historic framed photographs of celebrities like President George Bush visiting the hotel.

Two well-wishers, Patti Moore and Patrick MacDermaid, pressed up against the crime scene tape to shout out support to Kutlenios. Moore grew up in the area and has a Holly Hotel restaurant club membership. MacDermaid worked there in the 1980s as a dishwasher and was elevated to other positions including cook.

Several upcoming scheduled weddings at the hotel — starting this week — will have to be moved to other locations Kutlenios said.

The impact was slight on area residents of the sleepy hamlet in northern Oakland County, best known for having costumed characters from Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” roam streets and stage scenes during the holiday season. A made for TV Hallmark movie filmed in Holly will be televised later this year.

The business district largely remained open but vehicle traffic was temporarily diverted down other streets to bypass Battle Alley and the fire aftermath.

Due to extreme water use to fight the fire, village officials announced that the village water “will be brown for the time being” but stressed it was not a boil water notice and “the water will clear up soon.”

Robert Hoffman, an Oakland County commissioner who operates an Airbnb in a nearby building, built in 1873, said he was spared any damage but the fire knocked out the power. A wedding party planned there for this week will have to be canceled, he said.

“We were fortunate,” said Hoffman, who was so inspired by community support that he planted an American flag in the brick rubble of what had been the antiques building. “The fire departments did a terrific job in protecting and wetting down the building.”

Several onlookers along South Broad Street expressed concern but also confidence that the businesses will rebuild and reopen.

“They’ve had three fires over there,” said John Church of Brighton, who taught at Holly High School for 42 years. “They will come back from this one too. That’s what this community is all about.

Sandy and Larry Smith of Clarkson were motivated to drive over to Holly when they heard of the fire.

“My goodness,” Sandy Smith said looking at the burned buildings and pressing the palms of her hands together as if in prayer. “Tell me they are going to reopen.”

The Smiths attended a grandson’s wedding at the Holly Hotel in February.

Battle Alley and a section of Broad Street will be temporarily blocked off, Holly Chamber of Commerce Director Richard Kinnamon said Wednesday.

“City building inspections are being done of affected buildings and whether it is safe for residents or owners to occupy them,” Kinnamon said. “These are beginning immediately and will be ongoing once power is returned to some of the buildings.”

(248) 338-0319

Staff Writer Shawntay Lewis contributed.