FAIRPLAIN TOWNSHIP — The fourth fire within six months at three neighboring homes has left a Fenwick area couple “with nothing” after their residence was completely consumed and destroyed by fire Tuesday afternoon.
The Sheridan Community Fire Department was dispatched at 1:43 p.m. and arrived on scene at 1:51 p.m. to 1762 W. Boyer Road in Fenwick, the home of Tim and Jessica Vanconant.
“One, two three, right in a row,” Tim Vanconant said, pointing to the three adjacent homes as he watched firefighters work away at his residence. “Now it’s here. I was just buying this home off of my landlord, we have no insurance. We lost everything.”
The Vanconants had just arrived near Lake Odessa to fish when Tim Vanconant received a phone call from a neighbor letting him know his home was on fire.
When they arrived home, Jessica Vanconant couldn’t believe her eyes as she attempted to get a hold of family members on her cell phone.
“It’s totally gone, my house is gone,” she said. “We have nothing, we have absolutely nothing. Food, clothing, dog food, we need everything. Why would this happen?”
Sheridan Community Fire Chief Ed Lingeman said there was no saving the residence, as the house was already consumed by fire when the 911 call was received by Montcalm County Central Dispatch.
“We could see smoke from town, it was called in as flames showing,” Lingeman said. “It’s a total loss, which was pretty much inevitable as an end result.”
Lingeman said fighting the fire in 90-degree heat made for very difficult conditions for the firefighters, who rotated fighting the fire on scene, pouring water on each other during small breaks.
“Fighting it was a little difficult at first, the power line slowed us down as well as the intensity of the flames, location of the home, heat, and time of day,” he said. “There were a lot of variables.”
Lingeman said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
“Somebody heard a loud boom, there could have been something there, but it’s hard to tell at this point,” he said. “But no one was home at the time and no one was injured.”
According to Lingeman, the fire is suspicious due to previous circumstances involving three fires at two neighboring homes.
“There’s a large suspicion because of where this fire is at,” he said. “There will be more investigation done and I think they are still working on the two fires from the two homes to the east. I don’t know if this one is tied in, it’s a different family, but obviously given the location, there’s a chance.”
Lingeman said he called the state fire marshal before he arrived on scene.
“Talking to the homeowner there wasn’t any threats or problems with the house itself, such as electrical issues,” he said. “But I did make a call to the fire marshal just because of the location and the circumstances prior to this location.”
On Jan. 21, the residence of Garret and Mary DeGram at 1680 W. Boyer Road, two houses to the east of Tuesday’s fire, caught fire, but was not ruled suspicious. The couple had previously experienced multiple fires in the past at a previous residence on Derby Road.
On March 29, the Degrams experienced another fire at the same residence, a total loss, which was eventually ruled to be arson by State Fire Marshal Trever Slater.
On June 5, the neighboring residence of one of the DeGram’s daughter’s at 1736 W. Boyer Road caught fire. The fire was contained to one bedroom and the structure was saved. Slater also ruled that fire to be a case of arson.
After Tuesday’s fire at the third residence, neighbors are convinced that the latest fire also is a work of arson.
David Bissel lives with his parents at the next house down to the west at 1828 W. Boyer Road, and is worried his home may be next.
“It’s not coincidence. It has to be some kind of arson going on,” Bissel said. “The township has to do something about this. Somebody is setting these fires for a reason. It’s hot today, but three houses in a row? No way it’s a coincidence. Somebody has to be setting these fires.”
Melissa Avery, who lives at 1736 W. Boyer Road, the second house to catch fire, called 911 Tuesday in disbelief after discovering her neighbor’s residence also had caught fire.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Avery said. “I was sitting in the kitchen, enjoying the breeze from a fan, and I started to smell smoke,” she said. “But it’s summer out, so It wouldn’t be a wood stove. I walked outside and saw that their front porch was completely enflamed.”
The Red Cross is assisting the Vanconants after Tuesday’s fire, but the husband and wife said they would appreciate any donations. Those wishing to help can call Jessica Vanconant’s sister, Amanda Ogden, at (616) 755-3727.
The Ronald Township Fire Department, Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office, Montcalm County Emergency Medical Services and Greenville Department of Public Safety assisted on scene.