By Pat Maurer
Around 45 firemen and equipment from four area fire departments were at the home of Clare County Sheriff John Wilson Monday to fight a fire that has reportedly completely destroyed the Sheriff’s home. More details of the fire were not yet available Monday afternoon, but Undersheriff Dwayne Miedzianowski did say it appears that the cause of the fire may be electrical.
The Harrison Fire Department was called to the scene around 11 a.m., Harrison Fire Chief Pat Agin said Tuesday, and the fire was contained by around 3 p.m. Firemen were on the scene until 6:45 p.m. Monday.
Agin said it was one of the largest structure fires this year. “We have had approximately 30 structure fires this year,” he said.
The Harrison Fire Department was assisted by Surrey Township Fire Department, Clare Fire Department, Garfield Fire Department and Gladwin Fire Department.
A neighboring garage, at 166 Pine Street also ignited and was gutted by the fire. No one was injured. The fire also melting siding on two neighboring homes, one beside the Wilson residence and on behind the home. A garage behind the home was also damaged by the excessive heat.
Agin said the two-story Wilson home is a total loss with little left standing. He said the cause of the fire has not been determined yet, but the State Fire Marshall would be there to investigate Wednesday morning.
Sheriff John Wilson, said he was home with a sick child at the time the fire started. “I was in the living room working on the laptop when I saw smoke coming from the basement. I went upstairs and got Evan, grabbed two of the dogs and the cat and got outside. By then the house was already full of smoke. I called 911 as I was running through the house .” He said he went back to the door and grabbed the third dog and pulled her out. “Before I got her the suction from the fire inside pulled the door shut,” he said. “Luckily I could reach in and grab her.”
No one else was at home, and no one was injured because of the fire.
The family watched as the more than 100-year old home went up in flames. John said it was built in the 1890s, and purchased by his grandfather in 1936. His grandfather died ’75. “When my grandmother died in the mid-90s we bought the home and since then have been updating and renovating it.”
Wilson said one of his projects was rewiring the old house. “I had all but about 20 percent of it done,” he said, adding that he has no idea what may have started the fire, but he believes the fire may have been caused by wiring in the basement, some of which was still the old wiring. “All we had down there was stored clothes he said, but the wiring to the dryer came up from downstairs. The dryer was running at the time.”
“It’s a real tragedy,” he said Tuesday. “We lost everything in the fire. I am so thankful it didn’t happen at night when we were all at home and sleeping. None of us would have made it out alive.” He said, “At one point [during the fire] I thought the fire was out, then smoke started coming back and it was on fire again.”
“That old house burned so fast, we couldn’t believe it.”
The family is living in a home loaned to them by friends for now. He said, “It was their parents. They told us we can stay for as long as we need to.”
He said people’s help for his family has been amazing. “It feels so strange being the one receiving support instead of giving it. The public support and many donations already have been overwhelming and I can’t say how much we appreciate it.”
Wilson, who was in the process of replacing clothes and electronics as he was interviewed, said the family doesn’t need clothes right now since they are buying new ones. “We have already received donations that are helping us buy new clothes,” he said.
A press release Wednesday from Agin said, “The Michigan State Police Fire Investigation Unit determined the cause of the fire as undetermined. However, electrical could not be ruled out as a cause.”
Wednesday afternoon, Wilson said, “It looks like the line to the dryer may have ‘arced’ causing a spark that started the fire.”
Undersheriff Dwayne Miedzianowski said, “On behalf of Sheriff Wilson and the family we wanted to thank you and the community for your thoughts as they go through this difficult time. We are working on establishing a bank account for donations to start replenishing their lost clothing and help with whatever else possible. In the meantime any donations are appreciated to be sent to CCSD Attn: Kim Davis. Thanks again.”
John said they haven’t decided yet whether they will rebuild the home or what they will do next. “We are still dealing with the reality of this tragedy,” he said. “We can’t even go by there without crying.” Photos by William Faber