Squirrel torched to eat; apts destroyed
A fire that displaced more than two dozen people from their Holland Township apartments was started by a resident burning off a squirrel's fur, according to the local fire chief.
The fire at one of the buildings in the ClearView Apartments Wednesday afternoon heavily damaged dozens of units and left many people displaced -- but no one injured.
Fire Chief Jim Kohsel confirmed to 24 Hour News 8 that the fire was started when a resident attempted to use a propane torch to remove a squirrel's fur before eating it.
The resident was on the deck of a third-floor apartment, Kohsel said, and was preparing to eat the animal. The fire got out of control and soon spread to the roof, which eventually caved in.
Both the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department and the Holland Charter Township fire department were on scene within minutes of the fire starting. They called on Zeeland's fire department to assist.
Eight apartments were destroyed and several others sustained smoke and water damage, Kohsel confirmed.
Spencer Duits is one of those people who can see their apartment but won't be sleeping there any time soon.
"The one directly above the red chairs where it looked like the fire stopped would be mine," he pointed out for 24 Hour News 8.
Magan Morningstar, her boyfriend and two dogs are also displaced.
"At first it was just smoke. I thought it was foggy or my window was dirty." But then she got the call. "Our buddy from across the pond called us and said, 'Get out of your apartment! It's on fire!'"
Then came a knock from a sheriff's deputy, saying they needed to clear out.
Even though 29 of the 32 units were occupied, not a single person or pet was injured.
A resident told 24 Hour News 8 that firefighters were going into each apartment and rescuing the pets if the homeowners weren't there.
"You think you know what you'll grab," said Jack Pruim, "but you really don't."
Pruim and his wife Anna grabbed their dog and got out as quickly as possible. It was only later Anna realized she left her external hard drive, with all of their family photos, inside. By then, all she could do was hope the likely smoke and water damage didn't destroy it and them.
Even though many belongings are gone, everyone displaced was trying to stay positive.
"I'm not very happy with [the person who started the fire]," Morningstar said. "But accidents do happen, and if this wasn't meant to happen, it wouldn't have happened."
Duits was philosophical.
"It's only stuff. It's only stuff. The good thing is that nobody got hurt. My dog was able to get out of the apartment and life goes on tomorrow," he said.
He went on to joke, "I got a skylight now, though."
The American Red Cross was on scene and a representative told 24 Hour News 8 they plan to open a shelter for those displaced.
Some residents were allowed back in to retrieve their belongings Wednesday night.
A representative from the fire department said people would be displaced for at least a few days, if not longer, until they finish their investigation and make sure the complex is safe to live in.
Everyone who spoke to 24 Hour News 8 did have renter's insurance.