“We sat up in bed and looked at each other, then heard a big ‘pop,’” Matt said. “The fire alarms went ‘beep beep beep beep’ and (Alanna) said, ‘The power is out.’”
Matt said that wasn’t surprising because the power had gone out before during a storm, so he wasn’t concerned. Then his 8-year-old came running into the main-floor master bedroom crying and jumped into bed with his parents.
“All of a sudden, the fire alarm is going off upstairs where the two other kids are,” Matt said.
He said he ran upstairs “and smelled a hint of smoke.” Matt said he walked around, checking the rooms and didn’t find anything. He even opened one of the bedroom windows to see if the smoke was coming in from outside.
Still unsure of the source, he picked up his 2-year-old child and went back downstairs where his wife and 8-year-old were putting on their shoes. They were smelling more smoke, but still didn’t know the source.
Matt said Alanna and the two kids went out into the storm while he ran back upstairs to get his 6-year-old. Back downstairs, he pulled the manual switch to open the garage door, and piled his family into the van and got them out of the garage. At this point, something else interesting happened, Matt said.
“I hear someone yelling,” he said. “I look up and see three kids and a woman running across the yard in their pajamas. She’s yelling, ‘There’s a gas leak in my house and we need to come into your house.’”
Matt said he replied, “You can’t come into my house. It’s on fire.”
By then, firefighters arrived and smoke was visible coming out of the open upstairs window. Matt said the smoke just started building until thick white stuff was coming out.
Spring Lake Township Fire Chief Rick Nuvill said the fire spread rapidly throughout the house once it got into the walls and floors.
Firefighters knocked down a fire in the basement, then went upstairs where there was a lot of smoke. Nuvill said when the floors started becoming spongy, they pulled the firefighters from the interior and extinguished the blaze from the exterior.
Because of the size of the fire, several area fire departments — including Grand Haven city and township, Ferrysburg, Crockery Township, and Norton Shores — was called in to help. Coopersville and Allendale fire departments assisted by filling in at the Spring Lake and Crockery fire stations.
North Ottawa Community Hospital ambulance, Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department and the Norton Shores Canteen were also on the scene.
Firefighters battled the blaze for about four hours before going into a mop-up stage at 3 a.m. today. They were still putting out hot spots at 5:30 a.m. when only Spring Lake firefighters remained on the scene. At 9 a.m., firefighters were still on the scene to make sure there the fire did not rekindle.
The house, valued at about $500,000, was a total loss, Nuvill said.
Matt Clarke said he guessed they had at least “a couple hundred-grand” worth of contents in the 6,000-square-foot house.
“There was all kinds of furniture and clothes,” he said this morning. “It’s everything we owned.”
Clarke returned to the scene this morning in hopes of meeting with the insurance adjuster and the possibility of looking for some belongings.
“The stuff that was in the third floor bedroom is on top of the baby grand piano in the basement right now,” Clarke said as he gazed at the still-smoking ruins. “It’s in 3 feet of water.”
Clarke said he was grateful that everyone was safe, but that this was the third traumatic event for his children this year.
“We moved to Spring Lake in June (2010),” said the former Arizona resident. “We moved to this house in August. And now the fire. My kids are getting (traumatic events) all stacked on them in one year.”
Clarke said his wife’s family is from the Grand Haven area, so he opened a branch of his attorney’s office in Grand Rapids and bought the house after they felt sure that they could make it work.
Clarke said they are staying with family in the area as they work through the life-changing event.
“You think that everything you’ve collected in 41 years is gone,” he said. “How do you unwind this mess?”
The fire, that may have started from a lightning strike and been fed by a broken gas line, is still under investigation, according to Nuvill.