Fire destroys pole barn, toys, memories in Fruitport Township

A pole barn that served as a family storage building went up in flames late Sunday afternoon, not long after the residents had left home to attend a family Christmas function.
Becky Vargo
Dec 26, 2011

The 40-by-60 or 70-foot building was completely engulfed in flames and the roof had partially caved in when the first fire engine arrived on the scene late in the afternoon on Christmas Day, said Fire Inspector Brian McKelly of the Fruitport Fire Department.

No one was home at the David Markgraf residence, 2800 E. Sternberg Road, when firefighters were called to the scene at 4:48 p.m. Sunday, McKelly said. A person driving through the area saw the smoke and called for help, he said.

Firefighters originally thought the fire was in a business owned by Markgraf directly on East Sternberg Road, just east of Airline Road, McKelly said. That business is Goll’s Welding.

But the fire was a good quarter mile back off the road near the Markgraf’s home.

McKelly said firefighters used two fire engines and some 1,700 feet of large-diameter hose to get the water supply back to the aerial fire truck being used.

“They did everything they could, but it was a total loss,” said homeowner Wendy Markgraf. “They had to be out here on Christmas,” she said of the firefighters. “We definitely appreciate it.”

Wendy Markgraf said they had the usual toys in the pole barn, including Jet Skis, snowmobiles and a quad.

“My husband’s first car from when he was 16 was in there,” she said. “He was going to fix it up.”

Markgraf said the pole barn was put on the property in the early 1990s and they moved into their home in 1999.

“We had tons of stuff in there...a lot of tools,” she said. “That was kind of like the family storage. His dad had stuff in there. We had stuff in there.”

The residents had left their home around 4 p.m. to go to a family function.

“We had to drive right by it,” Wendy said. “Everything was fine then.”

Forty-five minutes later they got a call from David’s father saying the pole barn was on fire, she said.

Wendy said she went with her husband and older son to the fire, but returned to the Christmas party.

“We tried to maintain a normal Christmas for the little ones,” she said.

Markgraf said she had no idea how the fire might have started. She said she believed that several of the vehicles has fuel in them, which may have contributed to the fast spread of the fire. There was also auto body paint and other flammable materials in the building, she said.

McKelly also noted that they had not determined a cause of the fire, but he was returning to the scene this morning to continue his investigation.

A damage estimate also was not available this morning.

Markgraf said the fire was upsetting, but “it was just stuff.”

“Our family’s OK. Our home’s OK,” she said.

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