“I thought I was going to die”

Becky Vargo • Sep 1, 2017 at 8:00 AM

ROBINSON TWP. — Navada Volovlek said it was overwhelming to go through her house item by item to see what could be saved after a devastating fire early Saturday morning.

“It would almost have been better if it had burned totally to the ground,” she said, clutching a few small items close to her heart.

If not better, at least easier, she admitted.

Navada and her husband, Jim, were fortunate they were even able to make those choices, she said.

They had been at a family party earlier in the evening and had returned home with one of their daughters.

After her daughter left, Navada said she went to the basement to check on one of the cats. That had to be about 11 p.m. There was nothing amiss at that time, but the homeowner admitted to not having the best “sniffer.”

The couple went to bed and it was just after midnight when Navada said she was awakened by their smoke alarms.

“I jumped out of bed and asked ‘what is that noise,’” she said. “My husband takes off his CPAP, and says, ‘Oh my God,’ the house is on fire.”

Navada started for the side door and was almost there when she was overcome by smoke.

“I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I thought I was going to die.”

Smoke was rolling up the open staircase from the basement and Navada said she made one last grab for the side door, was able to unlock it and get outside. Her husband followed, falling a couple of times, but he was also able to get outside.

Some young people who saw flames from the road rushed up to the house to see if anyone was inside. They met the older couple as they stumbled out the door.

Navada said she didn’t know who they were, but wanted to thank them.

She then turned and knocked on the floor and was able to call one of her cats out.

“He was foaming at the mouth,” she said, but was otherwise OK.

Firefighters were able to rescue a second cat and revive it with a pet oxygen mask. A third cat was found dead.

Robinson Township Fire Chief Paul VanVelzen said it was about 12:05 a.m. Saturday when his department got the call for help at 14230 Green St. 

When he arrived the house was full of smoke and there was fire in the northeast corner of the basement.

The chief called for help from fire departments in Grand Haven, Crockery and Allendale townships. The American Red Cross also assisted with its advocates and canteen.

Firefighters had the fire under control in about an hour, VanVelzen said. Damage was estimated at more than $80,000 with at least $5,000 to $10,000 for the contents, he said.

Although the fire started in a utility room, the cause was still under investigation, the chief said. 

The fire burned through the floor joists under the living area, went up the front door and into the attic, VanVelzen said. 

“It’s not habitable,” he noted.

Navada said that an insurance representative told her that the structure of the house was OK, but a contractor told her it would have to be gutted.

The couple has been staying with family since the night of the fire.

Navada said the cats have been to the veterinarian and her husband has been to the doctor.

“We’re OK, other than this intense sense of loss,” she said. “Now we have 40-50 years of … do I want this. Do I want them to try and save that?”

Navada said things have accumulated over the years — things that their children left behind, things that came into the home with an elderly parent. 

She was just finishing getting some clothes ready for a donation when the fire struck.

“My gosh, I was doing something good,” she said. “Now it’s a pile of wet, sloppy nothing.”

Navada said she’s thankful for the help of the restoration crew, adding that they were keeping her sane during the process of sorting through the home.

The couple’s future plans are still up in the air.

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