Lower Windsor Township's public works building -- and much of the equipment inside -- was destroyed after multiple explosions accompanied a massive fire that burned for more than two hours.

Between 30 and 40 fire companies and departments from York and Lancaster counties responded to the blasts on Walnut Valley Court, in the area of Hakes Hollow and Snyder Corner Road.

Crews were called to the scene shortly before 8 a.m. The fire was mostly out shortly after 10 a.m., Lower Windsor Township Police Chief Tim Caldwell said.

A track hoe was brought in to move debris and allow fire crews to douse hot spots, he said.

As the fire raged, two firefighters were forced to pull back from a garage bay side of the building for an explosion at 9:07 a.

Emergency crews in Lower Windsor Township
Emergency crews in Lower Windsor Township (Bil Bowden)
m.

Craley Fire Chief Jesse Frantz said the building and its contents are a total loss. The facility contains all of the township's public works equipment, including dump trucks, pickup trucks, and loaders.

Caldwell said the Eastern York Area Recreation Commission typically holds a day-care center in a section of the building, but "thankfully there was no day care today."

He said the building was empty at the time of the explosion.

"Obviously, this is a huge issue for our public works department and for the township," he said. "This is huge. But we have to be thankful no one was inside."

The building contained a variety of things that could have exploded, including fuel containers and oxygen tanks for welding, he said.

Neighbor Becky Grim was awakened by noise at 7:55 a.m.

"I heard all this banging," she said, and was annoyed because she mistakenly thought it was construction noise.

"Then there was one loud explosion that shook the house," she said. "I grabbed my daughter and my dog and we got out."

Grim said emergency crews recommended some nearby residents evacuate, but she's not one of them. Her house is separated from the township building by a tree line.

Township manager Maureen Hartman said the day care doesn't meet in the summer, but four road workers and a building maintenance employee arrived at the building between 6 and 6:30 a.m.

They were out doing road work by the time the fire was reported, she said.

All five of their personal vehicles were parked next to the building, and all five were destroyed by the fire, Hartman said.

Highway worker Jeff Diehl, a 23-year employee, said he lost his Ford Ranger pickup truck.

When the road crew heard about the fire and returned and saw the building, he was "really shocked," he said.

He said he heard tanks and truck tires exploding inside the 10-year-old building.

Hartman said the township is fully insured, but replacing the lost equipment will take some time.

She said the township will likely have to construct a new building to house the replacement equipment when they get it.

As smoke cleared about 10 a.m., it became clear the walls and roof of the 9,600-square-foot bay area were missing.

Wooden support beams had toppled and were still burning, with little standing other than an eerie metal door that was freestanding, apparently unsupported, among the smoldering debris.

Hartman said she's been receiving calls from neighboring municipalities, all of which have offered the use of their public works equipment.

"The other townships have been just incredible," she said.

Two state police fire marshals remained on scene until after 1 p.m., investigating the cause of the fire. One of them, Trooper Bradley Dunham, said he was not sure a damage estimate would be arrived at Thursday.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at levans@yorkdispatch.com.