PINE TOWNSHIP — The Phillips family was just beginning to enjoy a weekend trip to Kalamazoo when Nicole Phillips received a phone call that no one ever wants or expects to receive.
At about 2 p.m. Friday, neighbors spotted smoke coming from the Phillips home at 2545 N. Johnson Road in the Trufant area. Within minutes, flames were shooting through the windows shortly after the Lakeview District Fire Department arrived on scene.
“Flames were coming out of the windows when we started to attack the fire,” Fire Chief Patrick Q. Carr said. “We knocked it down pretty fast, but the structure itself was completely gutted by the fire.”
Phillips said her family, of which there were 10 members living together in the home, raced back the 85 miles from Kalamazoo in two vehicles to find their home in ruins as firefighters continued to extinguish the fire.
“We have to start over, there is nothing left,” Phillips said. “Our home, it is 100 percent gone.”
Carr said state fire marshals believe the fire was started by an electrical problem with a power cord in the front of the house and have ruled out anything suspicious.
Firefighters battled the fire for approximately three hours before leaving the scene. No person was injured and no one was home at the time of the fire, although one of three dogs that were home during the fire did not survive.
Phillips lived at the residence with her husband Thomas Phillips and two boys, ages 8 and 4. Also living at the home was Thomas Phillips’ son, his wife and their three children, a 10-year-old boy, 9-year-old girl and 5-year-old girl. And the 10th member of the family living at the home was Thomas Phillips’ mother, who is suffering from stage 4 cancer.
Now living in a temporary home in Sparta courtesy of the Red Cross, Phillips said the family is “desperate at this point” for any and all help that anyone can provide after losing their home.
“The insurance company can help us get started, but it’s going to be a very long, drawn-out process lasting months and months,” she said.
According to Phillips, the Red Cross can only house the Phillips family for a maximum of 30 days. After that point, the family must move into a temporary or permanent residence, which the insurance company will pay rent for.
“I don’t like to ask for help, but I’m at the point now where there are 10 of us and one of us is terminally ill,” she said. “We have to ask for help now.”
Phillips said she is hoping anyone who may have a home to rent temporarily with three to five bedrooms can come to her family’s rescue.
“Our most emergency need is finding a temporary home,” she said.
Phillips said she would like to relocate close to her former home, which was about five miles northeast of Trufant near Rainbow Lake, but understands that may not be possible.
“I would like to try to stay near the Lakeview school district, but I know that might not be realistic,” she said. “If anyone is willing to rent to us, the insurance company would pay the rent. We just need to find a home so we can start over.”
Phillips said the family is also accepting donations of any kind.
“Furnishings, clothes, appliances — the list is endless,” she said. “We’ve had some donations from friends and family, but other than that, we have nothing.”
Phillips said they have also been dealing with increasing medical bills, as her husband suffered from heart failure when he arrived on the scene of the fire and learned that one of his three dogs did not survive the fire.
“I got another phone call because they thought my husband had a heart attack on scene,” Phillips said. “He has heart damage and might have had an underlining heart condition that they didn’t know about.”
People can call the Phillps family at (616) 835-6978 if they would like to help. People can also leave messages in the Phillps’ mailbox at their former home. An account is being set up for the family at Fifth Third Bank in Greenville in the name of Thomas Phillips. There is also a drop-off location at 902 Evergreen St. in Greenville.
Phillips said she would like to thank everyone who responded at the fire, including the Maple Valley Township and Montcalm Township fire departments, Montcalm County Emergency Medical Services and her neighbors who spotted the fire and risked their lives to save one of family’s dogs.
“One of our pit bulls, Sasha, got out of the bathroom, ran through the house, through the flames, and went through our window and onto the roof,” she said. “One of our neighbors climbed up their and rescued her from the fire.”
Phillips said she is not aware who the man was who rescued one of the family’s beloved dogs, but said she hopes to be able to thank him in person one day.
“We want to thank him, from the bottom of our hearts,” she said. “Sasha and Blue, our other dog, are all we have left from that fire. They are a part of the family and we will be forever grateful.”
The family’s third dog, Princess, did not survive the fire.
“To everyone and anyone who might be able to help us, we just want to say thank you,” Phillips said. “This has taken a lot out of us and we appreciate anything anyone can do.”