The sound of fury and flames roared deep in the woods of Hughston Road on Monday, March 13. A custom log home owned by Dick and Karen Darnton was completely destroyed by a structure fire, despite stellar work by area firefighters, led by the Harbor Springs Area Fire Department.
Fire crews were called to the scene, 6842 Hughston Road, around 3 p.m. No one was home at the time, and no firefighters were injured while battling the blaze.
"The house was fully engulfed by the time we were called," said Harbor Springs Area Fire Department Chief, John Cupps. "I'm guessing it had probably been burning for an hour or so before someone noticed."
As the home is set back away from the road in a spot without an available, working fire hydrant , Cupps, had his department (along with other area fire departments including Readmond, Friendship and Cross Village, Alanson and Resort-Bear Creek) load five tanker trunks using a hydrant about a mile away. The firefighters pumped water into a holding tank set up near the end of the driveway.
The house's location made it a more challenging fire to fight. However, the fact that the blaze took place during the winter likely saved the surrounding area from a potentially massive wildfire.
"Even a month from now, this could have been a whole different story," Cupps said.
While the fire department has no sure evidence yet of what caused the fire, Cupps said it likely started in the chimney.
"The homeowners had a fire going that morning, and left it to burn out when they went to work. Something so many of us do," he said. "While we can't say for certain that's what caused it, it does appear that's the case. It's just really unfortunate."
At the peak of the fire, around 30 firefighters were working to contain the blaze.
"We were there until around 9 p.m., at which time we decided to let it burn. We knew there were hot spots, but it was dark and icy; it was simply too dangerous to send people in to dig around and extinguish those," Cupps said.
The chief worked with Birchwood Security and the Harbor Springs Police Department to monitor the site, and Cupps said he returned with a few firefighters at 11 p.m. to cool off some hot spots, and was called back again at 3 a.m. to cool it off once more.
"We went back this morning with an excavator to handle the remaining hot spots," Cupps said on Tuesday. He noted his crew had just finished putting out any remaining embers at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"I know the family well," Cupps said of the Darntons. "It's a heartbreaker. I'm grateful no one got hurt and that they have a place to stay, but they lost 90-percent of their worldly possessions."
In true small community style, firefighters who were taking a break from the blaze took time to comfort the Darntons. The combined professionalism and famailir kindness of the all volunteer Harbor Springs Area Fire Department has been displayed time and again in the last several months. Since Cupps took over as fire chief following longtime chief Dick Schiller's retirement, the crew has been dispatched on multiple-- and major-- fires.
"All the fires of the last 10 years added together do not compare to the last six months," Cupps said of how blazes his department has battled.
During Monday's fire, Cupps said his crew was also assisted by Harbor Springs Department of Public Works, Emmet County Road Commission, Emmet County Sheriff's Department, and Emmet County EMS, as well as "many neighbors."
"It was a great team effort, which is something we are fortunate to be able to say whenever a major fire breaks out," Cupps said.