Oil and chemical booms surround a storm sewer outlet along the Wisconsin River not far from the site of Monday's three-alarm fire that destroyed McFarlanes' TrueValue in Sauk City.

Marcia Budde / Capital Newspaper

Local fire officials and the owner of a hardware store whose building was lost to a fire here Monday are receiving praise from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for their efforts to protect the environment, even as they faced other pressing concerns.

Sauk County DNR Warden John Buss said Friday that Sauk City Fire Chief Doug Breunig had his crews cover storm sewer drains with tarps and bags to prevent runoff from the hundreds of thousands of gallons firefighters used to control the blaze from running off into the Wisconsin River.

“I give him all the credit in the world,” Buss said. “To think of the environment in a time like that is extraordinary.”

Buss said there did not appear to be any contamination of the waterway.

“There is no fish kill or aquatic damage at all,” Buss said. “Thirty years ago, you would have seen that water flushed into the river.”

Breunig said the village’s public works department reported that about 475,000 gallons of water were used to fight the three-alarm blaze. He said training in recent years made him think of environmental concerns right away.

“You have to think of the overall picture and the possible ramifications if you don’t,” he said. “And you could tell by the color of the (standing) water that it contained some contaminants.”

Instead of draining, the water used to fight the fire accumulated in a makeshift pond between the destroyed retail store and a neighboring manufacturing plant. Sand was hauled in to build a dike and then SET Logistics, an environmental cleanup firm under contract with McFarlanes’, used a tanker truck to suck up the water.

“It will be examined and then properly disposed of,” Buss said. “It showed tremendous responsibility on the part of the McFarlanes’ as well to have a plan and a company like that on retainer. When I first arrived, I told them that I’m sure cleanup was far down their list, but right away they said, ‘No, we want to protect the environment. Do whatever has to be done.’ This could not have gone any better as far as cleanup is concerned.”

SET took an additional precautionary measure Tuesday afternoon by installing oil and chemical booms, which serve as floating absorbent pads, at the mouth of a nearby storm sewer pipe that carries water to the Wisconsin River. Buss said the booms should capture any contaminants that get by.

Breunig said past fires taught the department lessons regarding the need for proper cleanup preparation, including a blaze in the same general location in the early 1980s that destroyed Prairie Plumbing and Heating.

The McFarlanes’ fire was among the top five most severe during Breunig’s career, he said, with the fires at Delaney’s Surplus Store on Highway 12 and the one at the downtown Ganser’s Five and Dime store among them.

“We don’t know the amount of damage, but it will be in the millions,” he said of the McFarlanes’ fire.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the state’s fire marshal, but both Breunig and Sauk Prairie Police Chief Jerry Strunz said nothing suspicious has been discovered.

McFarlanes’ tire and small-engine sales, along with repair services, are on the verge of being back up and running. Dan Baun, the general manager for Consumers Co-op Oil Company, said Friday he signed an agreement with McFarlanes’ to temporarily lease a vacant space at 751 Phillips Boulevard to McFarlanes’. It previously served as home to the Goodyear Automotive Center before it closed a year ago.

“They had looked at in the past, so it was an easy deal,” Baun said.