Area firefighters work together to stop flames.
WYANDOTTE/COMMERCE- Two separate fires raged through homes in rural Wyandotte and Commerce destroying the structures and contents and leaving one man injured.
The Wyandotte Fire Department responded to a fire around noon on Oct. 28 at a home located in Wyandotte at 10660 South 618 Road in rural Ottawa County according to Wyandotte Fire/EMS Chief Jodi Francisco.
“It started over around the fireplace,” Francisco said. “The house was so flammable and filled with stuff, and that made it ten times worse. It was an older doublewide trailer house that had been added on to four or five times.”
The home was occupied by owners Randy and Charla Miller and was well engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived on scene. Charla was away babysitting a family member, and Randy was sleeping and awoke to the fire. He was injured trying to re-enter the home to rescue the couple’s pet cockatiels.
“It was cooking pretty good whenever we got there, and mainly it was the south end of the residence that was involved,” Francisco said. “The residents were home, and the male owner went back in to get his birds, and that's when he suffered some burns and stuff. He got life-flighted out to Springfield.”
Randy Miller remains in ICU in a Springfield Hospital for treatment to burns to his esophagus and lungs and has a long road to recovery, according to his wife. A YouCaring.com fundraiser has been set up to help the Millers with medical expenses, clothing, and other needs.
Francisco said the pet birds did not survive.
The house fire re-ignited later in the day and firefighters had to return to extinguish the smoldering remains of the home, according to the fire chief.
“That's common especially when there's so much stuff in there, and it's packed tight. Those poor guys worked so hard pulling all that stuff out of there,” Francisco said.
Francisco said his firefighters worked hard throughout the day and were grateful for the assistance of the Quapaw Tribe Fire/EMS and Miami Fire Departments.
“It's a total loss. You're not going to save anything, everything is burnt up or smoke damaged,” he said. “It was like walking into a hornet's nest and hitting it because you had a trailer house which can be like kindling sticks and the numerous additions and all the stuff inside.”
“Randy is still in ICU, but thankfully is improving daily," Charla Miller said on Monday. “I wish I could say when he will be 100 percent, but at least he is improving. I do, from my heart, thank everyone for the prayers and donations and kind words. It’s hard to wrap my head around that all is gone. I know they are just things, but the loss of our precious cockatoo's is heartbreaking. I hurt for my husband and his pain.”
Francisco wanted to take the opportunity to warn homeowners to check heating units and fireplaces as cold weather has now come to the area.
“Be sure and get your chimneys cleaned out and your fireplaces are all in operating order before lighting fires and get your furnaces serviced and ready,” he said.
A second fire later in the same afternoon on Saturday destroyed the Hudson residence on 312 South Cherry Street in Commerce.
The Commerce Volunteer Fire Department arrived on scene and began efforts to put the fire out quickly.
“The fire started in the middle section of the house in the kitchen area,” Assistant Fire Chief Jared McDonald said. “When we got on scene the smoke and flames were already out the eaves of the house. We believe it started on the kitchen stove. The homeowner said the stove was not on, but she was thinking maybe it was a malfunction of the stove. The homeowner stated that that stove had been malfunctioning, sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t, and she said sometimes it would kick on without touching a button.”
According to McDonald, the homeowner was inside the three-bedroom residence with her three grandchildren when the fire started.
“They were in the bedroom off the kitchen, and she told me the only way she even knew the house was on fire was the grandson said, ‘Grandma, look there’s smoke coming out of the heater vent!’” McDonald said. “She said she looked up at her vents and saw smoke coming out. She left the bedroom and went toward the kitchen and saw that the whole wall was on fire and grabbed her grandkids and got out.”
McDonald said Hudson called for help immediately, but the home was still heavily damaged by smoke and fire.
“There’s smoke damage throughout the house, but the actual fire damage was just to the kitchen and living room attic area,” he said. “At least 60 percent of the house was affected by fire damage.”
The Commerce Volunteer Fire Department received assistance from the Quapaw Tribe Fire/EMS Department through automatic mutual aid and Miami Fire Department also responded. He spoke of the importance of auto and mutual aid assistance between local fire departments in the county.
“The Quapaw’s engine was currently at another structure fire. I was actually at the fire station and was listening to them when we got paged,” McDonald said. “We got lucky, and they had a couple extra guys down at Quapaw Tribe, and they brought their Rescue Truck, and it’s got pumping capabilities just like an engine does. Miami brought their guys and one of their engines.”
McDonald said his department was on scene roughly three hours working the fire and there were no injuries involved.
“Everybody was just fine,” he said. “We got in touch with the American Red Cross, and they were actually on scene before we ever left. They were helping with a motel for a couple of nights and hygiene items, little stuff that people need at these times.”
McDonald reiterated Francisco’s cautionary warning to and advice to residents to check appliances, heaters, and fireplaces for fire safety, he said, “Be sure to check furnaces, they need inspected and cleaned before being ignited for the first time every year. Make sure birds haven’t got up in the vent pipe to nest or anything like that. Have a repairman come out and inspect any appliances that might need maintenance, and when in doubt leave it unplugged until they can come take a look at it.”
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.