Flames took hold fast. When firefighters arrived shortly after the 11 a.m. call, strong winds had already blown the fire into the house, according to Crockery Township Fire Chief Gary Dreyer. Within a couple of hours, the fire had crept through the walls and voids of the house, causing the roof to collapse and totally destroy the home, he said.
“Initial crews did find that the front foyer was being used as a storage area,” Dreyer said. “That made it difficult to gain access.”
Justin VanderZwaag was the only one home when the fire started at the house — which belonged to his parents, Wayne and Robin VanderZwaag. Justin, who was visibly upset at the time, would only say that “it was an accident” when asked if he knew how the fire started.
Fire officials planned to be on the scene today to search for the cause, Dreyer said.
Wayne VanderZwaag said that he and his wife were at a relative’s home when the fire started.
“We lived here 27-28 years,” he said. “We’ve got 28 years (worth of stuff) in there,” he gestured toward the house.
VanderZwaag said he was thankful everyone got out OK. “We lost our cat,” he added.
Sgt. Kevin Allman of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department was the first emergency official on the scene.
“When I pulled up, the garage was cooking,” he said.
Dreyer said the garage had already collapsed when firefighters arrived.
A pickup truck in the driveway was fully engulfed in flame and the canopy of another storage building had melted away.
Neighbor Beth Ernst said she was putting a turkey in the oven when she heard a popping sound.
“I looked across the street and said, ‘Wayne and Robin’s house is on fire,” Ernst said.
Neighbors watched from across the street as firefighters from several departments helped at the scene. Water had to be brought in by tanker because there are no fire hydrants nearby.
Assisting at the scene were Spring Lake, Ferrysburg, Fruitport, Coopersville and Grand Haven Township fire departments. North Ottawa Community Hospital paramedics and Canteen 450 from Norton Shores also provided assistance.
The fire remains under investigation.
To see more photos from the fire, click here.