Flames, spirits rekindled

Fire investigators were on the scene most of the day Thursday, looking for the cause of a fire that destroyed a local family's home late Tuesday night. Then on Friday, three days after the fire, a hot ember took hold and sent white smoke floating out of the large, now skeletal house. Firefighters were called back to the Pond Creek Court home at 4:30 p.m. Friday, as more and more smoke rolled up and out of the house. Neighbors gathered and soon homeowners Matt and Alanna Clarke and their three children were back on the scene.
Becky Vargo
Apr 23, 2011

Although the fire had devastated the family, a light mood pervaded the air as the neighborhood gathered to watch the firefighters push back the fire one more time.

“For a bad thing happening, I couldn’t be in a better place,” Matt said. “It’s amazing how the community has come out and supported us.”

Clarke said they are fortunate to have family in the area, but they’ve also gotten a lot of help from neighbors, co-workers and families of their children’s classmates.
“People have been offering bags of clothes, meals, money cards and offering to help,” Clark said. “It’s beenoverwhelming.”

The Clarkes moved back to Michigan in June from Arizona and moved into their new house in August.

“We wanted to move back here because we’ve missed that Midwestern type of community,” he said.

Clarke noted that his children have received letters and cards of support from their classmates, as well.

The children, ages 8, 6 and 2, are doing very well, he said as he watched them run around the perimeter of the yard. They took off to check out the yard of a home across the street that was for sale. Clarke said they hope to rent the house while they rebuild. Later as things calmed down, Fire Chief Rick Nuvill entertained the children by showing them around one of the fire trucks.

Although almost everything they had was lost in the fire, Clarke said his wallet was located and returned Thursday.

“Most of the cards were melted, but my license was perfect,” he said. “Plus there was $40 in cash that was OK too.”

Clarke said they’ve yet to locate their wedding rings, but are hopeful they can work through the debris once the contractor starts the demolition.

Although the cause is not official, investigators believe lightning struck the cap of the fireplace on top of the house, Nuvill said. They think the bolt traveled into the fireplace and arced over and through the gas lines inside the house.

It exploded with a large bang.

“It was feeding raw gas into the basement,” he said.

Fire spread through the walls and floors of the house, setting off the smoke alarms which jolted Clarke into getting his family out.

Six area fire departments battled the blaze, but had to quickly go into a defensive mode when the floors started getting soft, Nuvill said.

Clarke complimented the firefighters for their work and the way they were dealing with the family. He said his law firm was being very supportive, picking up his work load, and that things were going well so far with the insurance company.

Early estimates of loss are the house valued at $500,000 and contents of at least a couple hundred thousand dollars, he said.

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