Damage too extensive to determine cause of recent fires

Becky Vargo • Dec 20, 2016 at 11:00 AM

The damages were so extensive in two structure fires last week that the actual causes may never be determined, officials said.

Firefighters from several departments responded to a mobile home fire Thursday evening in Crockery Township and a garage fire Friday night in the City of Grand Haven.

Both structures were completely destroyed by the blazes, which occurred during heavy snowfall. The temperature was in the teens both nights.

There were no injuries, but an adult cat, several kittens and a dog were lost in the mobile home fire.

The mobile home sat behind a barn on property owned by Peter Berghuis, 12934 Wilson Road, just east of 130th Avenue. Crockery Township Fire Chief Gary Dreyer said the owner did not have insurance on the structure and the tenants did not have renter’s insurance.

The American Red Cross put the young couple up in a motel until they could make other living arrangements. Their identity was not available.

Dreyer said the department’s investigation revealed that the mobile home was being heated with a wood stove and propane-fueled space heaters. The chief said he could not pinpoint — because of the extensive damage — whether or not any of those heat sources were to blame for the fire.

“Propane space heaters generally need to be in a well-ventilated environment,” Dreyer said. “They’re not usually recommended for inside a house.”

Dreyer also said that you need at least 3-4 feet of clearance around a propane-fueled space heater and that is almost impossible to do inside a house. Other issues with propane heaters include the potential for carbon monoxide fumes in the home, he said.

Crockery Township Supervisor Leon Stille said there have been code violation issues with the Berghuis property for a number of years. Although some of the issues, such as a “perpetual garage sale,” have been cleaned up, Stille said the property owner has been collecting campers and trailers that he is using as storage and to fix and resell — a commercial operation not allowed in agricultural zoning.

“We had ordered that trailer that burned to be emptied and cleaned out about two years ago,” Stille said.

Stille noted that Berghuis said he would no longer have anyone live in the trailer.

Stille said that on the day after the fire, he had informed Berghuis that the township would be starting legal action against him to get him to clean up his property.

Stille said he had requested a couple of weeks ago that the Ottawa County health department inspect the property. He did not know the result of the inspection, or even if it had taken place yet.

The tenant was doing motorcycle repair inside the mobile home, Stille added, and that there were motorcycles in the front and back of the home.

Garage fire

Grand Haven public safety officers on Monday returned to the scene of a fire that destroyed a garage and damaged two houses Friday night.

Investigators poked around the scorched metal of a car and motorcycle — both covered with a light coating of snow — as they searched for the cause of the fire. Lt. Joe Boyle said it would be difficult to determine a cause because the fire damage was so extensive.

The garage was burned to the ground and siding melted off the house and a neighbor’s house.

Firefighters from four departments responded to the fire at about 9 p.m. Friday at 1844 Pennoyer Ave. Neighbor Clark Spyker said he called 911 after seeing an orange glow, and then flames shooting twice as high as the house.

A car and a motorcycle were among the items in the garage at the time.

Boyle said he did not yet have a damage estimate. 

The house belongs to Roy and Jill Yenkel of Howell, Boyle said. The occupants of the house are renters.

The garage was insured, Boyle added.

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