by JUDY REED
Nelson Township resident Brad Smith knew something wasn’t right when he saw a plume of smoke rising into the air as he drove west on 18 Mile near Shaner about 2 p.m. Thursday, April 16. “I’d seen fires around from people burning but this was different,” he said.
Smith headed in the direction of the smoke, finally finding the source on Wildwood Court, a private drive east off Shaner, just south of Coan. “The roof was on fire, and there was a woman at home, so I helped her get her dog out,” said Smith.
While the home of Nancy and Steve Hazen was destroyed, their sister-in-law, Jean St. Charles, and the dog, made it out safely.
Firefighters were called to the scene about 2 p.m. with DNR aerial support reporting a 5-acre grass fire moving toward the house. Crews from seven fire departments, including Sand Lake, Cedar Springs, Algoma, Solon, Spencer, Howard City, and Courtland Fire Departments, battled both the house fire and the wildfire that ignited it for several hours Thursday afternoon. Four tankers of water were brought in to quell the blaze.
Sand Lake Fire Chief Ed Holtzlander said it was definitely the wildfire that started the house on fire, and not the other way around. “It started in the northeast tract and moved up behind the house,” he explained.
Wildfires were rampant last week because of dry, windy conditions, and officials originally theorized that someone burning brush might have sparked it. However, the state fire marshal inspected the scene Monday, and was not able to determine the exact cause of the fire. The DNR used their GPS tool to estimate that the fire scorched about 17-18 acres, including the home. Other homes were not damaged.
According to the National Fire Interagency Center, there were 412 wildfires in Michigan in 2008 that burned 2,675 acres. Nationally, over 80,000 wildfires burned over 5,254,000 acres last year.