Garage fire spreads, scorches home; neighbors rescue woman
South Branch Township fire chief Ernie Windolph said the South Branch fire department received the call at 12:06 p.m. and arrived on scene at 12:12 p.m. Also on scene were the Higgins Township Fire Department, the Roscommon County Sheriff’s Department, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fire Control, Roscommon, and Consumer’s Energy.
Windolph said he is not sure what started the fire, but suspects it could have been caused by an electrical problem. He added because the house and garage were demolished quickly the fire will be considered “unclassified.”
He said he does know the fire moved from the garage to the mobile home of James and Dora Hatchette and then spread to two outbuildings and then moved to the trees at the back of the property. He said 11.2 acres of wooded land, five utility trailers, two vehicles, a camper, a boat, the home and two outbuildings were lost in the fire.
Homeowner James Hatchette said he, too, is not sure what caused the fire but said he and his wife, Dora were able to get out safely.
The reason the couple were able to escape from the fire was thanks to the quick response of two neighbors, Nick Schade and Joe Connolly. Schade said he first noticed the garage was on fire and knew Dora was still in the house.
“When I got to her I could see smoke coming into the house,” Schade said .
As Schade maneuvered through the house he said the fire was beginning to spread and he had to shield himself from the heat. He said he saw Dora sitting on a recliner and she at first refused to leave the burning home. He said he had to kick the window out and clear the glass away to get Dora out of harm. Connolly said as he and Schade were getting Dora out he was afraid because oxygen tanks were exploding.
Both Schade and Connolly said they did not have much time to make a decision, they just did what they thought was the right thing to do.
“I’m feeling fine,” Schade said. “I’m just glad I was in the right place at the right time.”
Connolly said his effort is “what anybody would do” and he “was just doing what’s right.”
Windolph said because the men acted quickly Dora’s life was saved. She was taken to Mercy Hospital Grayling and was later transferred to Munson Medical Center.
“She is doing fine and should be coming home soon,” Windolph said.
Although Windolph said he “commends their bravery” he added the department does not recommend going into a burning structure. He said it was a decision the men made on their own and without their actions Dora “may not be here.”
Windolph said he is also proud of the timely response by the DNR because they were able to contain the tree fire quickly.
DNR Conservation Officer Lt. Creig Grey said the department’s response team was able to contain the fire quickly because they were able to assess the situation and determine which way the wind was going to direct the fire. He added to ensure a much larger fire did not occur a fire line was dug on the property. Windolph said an evacuation notice was given, however, it was not acted upon because the fire was contained quickly. The safety concerns were due to the fact that there were several combustible propane tanks and dry wooded areas on the property. He added there were bottle gas tanks on the property which included two, 500-pound; five, 100-pound and six, 25-pound tanks. He added there were also four oxy-acetylene tanks in the garage.
He said there was “a concern for explosion” and said the release valve on the two 500 pound tanks went into action and “had done its job.” He said the response teams also had to deal with wind, stacks of firewood and had a “hard time maneuvering around obstacles” that were on the property.
Overall, Windolph said he is pleased with the way the different departments came together to fight the fire. He said he would like to give a “heartfelt thanks” to everyone who assisted in the fire.
“The mutual aide was good,” Windolph said. “They did a great job with an early and quick response.”