Amish community plans to rebuild Lakeview sawmill after lightning strike

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 9:57 pm on Friday, June 20, 2014

The northeast corner of a rural Lakeview sawmill smolders following a fire caused by a lightning strike early Wednesday morning. — Daily News/Kyle Wilson

PINE TOWNSHIP — The Five Corners sawmill isn’t a major operation by most standards.

Nine men are employed there and they process an average of 4,000 to 5,000 feet of wood per day. Drivers deliver wood to the sawmill from numerous locations and more drivers deliver the processed wood about an hour north to McBain for pallet use.

The sawmill — called Forestview Lumber LLC — in the heart of Montcalm County’s Amish country just east of the Five Corners intersection may seem like a small business, but it involves many people, immediately and at a distance. The operation means everything to Levi Yoder and his family and friends.

And now it’s gone, the entire structure burned to the ground after a lightning strike early Wednesday morning.

Scorched support columns stand where the exterior walls of Levi Yoder’s sawmill used to be. — Daily News/Kyle Wilson

The Lakeview District Fire Department responded to the fire at 6932 Kendaville Road shortly before 3:30 a.m. As Fire Chief Patrick Q. Carr got into his pickup truck, he could see the glow of the flames from his house more than six miles away.

“It was a big blaze,” he said. “It was fully involved. It was completely on fire from one end of the building to the other. There was just absolutely nothing to save from the time we got there.”

Before firefighters even arrived, Yoder knew it was too late as well. Amidst the rain and booms and flashes throughout Wednesday’s early morning storm, Yoder had been awakened from his sleep by an especially loud noise. He, his wife and six children live just a stone’s throw away from the sawmill.

“We heard a big, loud crash like a thunderclap and instantly after that we saw it,” he said. “I looked out the window and I could see the glow of it.”

Yoder ran outside toward the sawmill, but there was nothing he could do.

“You could tell it was a total loss because it was going so fast,” he said. “All they could do was keep the flames from spreading.”

Lakeview firefighters were assisted by Montcalm Township, Stanton and Maple Valley Township fire departments. Firefighters remained on scene for five hours, leaving around 8:30 a.m. as thunderstorms continued to roll across the county.

Ashes and burned boards remain in a pile next to where the sawmill used to stand in rural Lakeview.

“It was quite a lightning show,” Carr noted.

Even as firefighters were clearing the scene, Amish neighbors from miles around were making buggy rides down M-91 and toward the sawmill to see the devastation for themselves and find out how they could help their friend.

Yoder has owned the sawmill a little over three years, as part of a partnership. He doesn’t yet have an estimate of financial damages. Despite losing his livelihood, he tried to be in an upbeat mood Wednesday, choosing to focus on the fact that the outcome wasn’t worse.

“I try to look at the positive side and not let the negative bother me too much,” Yoder said. “You might as well not let it get you down. Just look ahead and be grateful that it wasn’t the house or my family.”

Lakeview firefighters returned to the scene Wednesday evening to extinguish hot spots, something Carr said was expected due to the large amount of sawdust and wood smoldering under hot steel.

What’s next for Yoder and his business partners?

“Just clean it up and rebuild,” he said simply.

He’s sure to have a lot of help from the community.

The smoldering remains of Levi Yoder’s sawmill die out Wednesday morning after being struck by lightning earlier in the morning hours. — Daily News/Kyle Wilson

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