2017-01-12 / Life in Leelanau

Neighborhood rallies around family after house fire

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


THIS HOME on Bow Road was destroyed in a fire Jan. 3. Its owners, Chad and Kari Kahler, got out safely and plan to rebuild on the same site. THIS HOME on Bow Road was destroyed in a fire Jan. 3. Its owners, Chad and Kari Kahler, got out safely and plan to rebuild on the same site. Chad and Kari Kahler thought the noise they heard during a late dinner last week was flying squirrels in their attic.

“We had about 13 people in the house during the holidays and we thought they were happy … relieved to see everyone go home,” Kari Kahler said.

But they were mistaken. The noise they heard overhead Jan. 3 was a fire that completely destroyed their historic home on Bow Road.

Built in Burdickville during the 1890s, it was the original farmstead of the Bow family for which the road is named.

Firefighters from seven different departments in Leelanau, Benzie and Grand Traverse counties were dispatched to the home at 9:28 p.m.

But it was the Kahler’s neighbors who were first on the scene and continue to support the couple as they attempt to rebuild their life together after losing their home.


THE WINDOWS and doors of the Kahler home on Bow Road are boarded up after a Jan. 3 fire that completely destroyed the home. THE WINDOWS and doors of the Kahler home on Bow Road are boarded up after a Jan. 3 fire that completely destroyed the home. About two dozen Bow Road neighbors gathered Saturday at the home of Jim and Kelly Lively to see what they can do for the Kahlers.

“We’re so blessed to live in this community,” said Kari, associate dean of the department of learning services at Northwestern Michigan College. “The love, care and prayers we’ve received have been phenomenal.”

The Kahlers heard a small noise “like a photo falling off the wall” and then a second, louder noise while eating in the kitchen Jan. 3. Smoke alarms in the second story of the building went off as Chad Kahler went upstairs to investigate.

There, he found the access door to the attic had fallen into their daughter’s unoccupied bedroom with fire behind it.

“We shot off three of our fire extinguishers and thought we were gaining ground,” Kari Kahler said. “But the fire chief said it had probably been going for a while before the detectors went off.”

A neighbor saw the fire while passing by and stopped to help the Kahlers gather a few photos off the wall before exiting the home for the last time. Neighbors joined them as they watched firefighters defend the home, where the Kahlers have lived since 1986.

“We stood in the garden while the house burned,” Kari Kahler said.

Temperatures dropped and changed rain into freezing rain, making for tough conditions for firefighters. Neighbors Tom and Joan Wigton offered the couple shelter as the Red Cross arrived with warm blankets, a $250 debit card for essentials and a checklist of what the Kahlers need to do in the days to follow. Items on the list included contacting their insurance company to report the fire and utilities to make sure service is shut off.

The couple has 60 days to come up with a complete inventory of the contents of the home, considered a total loss.

They feel fortunate as their home, heated with propane and wood, was completely covered by insurance and they will rebuild.

“People need to make sure their insurance policy is up to date,” Kari said. “Chad did this for us about six years ago and we were grossly underinsured at that point.”

It’s the little things — items that aren’t covered by insurance — that can’t be replaced.

Items such as their daughters, Casey’s passport that holds stamps from nine different countries visited last year or their academic or sports awards.

“They’re things you never think about, but stuff that make you who you are,” Kari Kahler said.

Casey Kahler, a 2012 Glen Lake graduate, was at home on break from Carroll College in Missoula, Mont. last week. However, at the time of the fire she was in Grand Rapids to pick up an East Coast friend from the airport. The planned week-long visit was postponed to a later date.

“We didn’t figure we’d be able to show her all the great things northern Michigan has to offer,” Kari Kahler said.

The couple has been greatly moved by expressions of condolence and support from the Glen Lake School community, where Chad has been a bus driver since 2000, as well as Northwestern Michigan College, Kari’s workplace.

“The kids said they were sorry and others offered hugs,” said Chad, who is transporting a second-generation of little Lakers, children of kids he drove years ago. “It made me want to cry.”

Neighbors have offered the Kahlers an apartment to stay during the estimated nine-month period to rebuild. Meanwhile, the couple said it’s their strong Christian faith that helps them maintain a positive attitude after the loss. They are members of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Glen Arbor.

“Like a phoenix we will rise up from the ashes,” Chad said.

Return to top