2017-07-27 / Local News

Fire destroys Werners’ home, and many family possessions

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


SUTTONS BAY-BINGHAM Fire and Rescue along with units from Leland and Elmwood townships responded quickly to a fire at the Werner residence on Shady Lane in Bingham Township last Thursday -- but not quickly enough to save the structure. 
(Photo courtesy of Suttons Bay-Bingham Fire & Rescue) SUTTONS BAY-BINGHAM Fire and Rescue along with units from Leland and Elmwood townships responded quickly to a fire at the Werner residence on Shady Lane in Bingham Township last Thursday -- but not quickly enough to save the structure. (Photo courtesy of Suttons Bay-Bingham Fire & Rescue) The acrid tang of burned wood and nearly everything else combustible that you’d expect to see inside a family home still hung lightly in the air just outside the former residence of John and Midge Werner of Bingham Township this week.

A semi-retired cherry farmer, John Werner was in an outbuilding on the family’s 90-acre farm last Thursday afternoon when he noticed smoke rising from the house that he built with the help of some friends in 1971— where he and his wife raised their two boys, now 46 and 49.

“I’d left my cell phone in the house, but by the time I got there, everything was just too hot and I couldn’t go in,” John Werner related.

He was, however, able to grab the keys to a 1957 Chevy parked in his garage and pull it out before the fire spread. A quick dash to a neighbor’s home to phone 9-1-1 resulted in a response from Suttons Bay-Bingham Fire and Rescue, which was soon followed by units from the Leland and Elmwood township fire departments.

Suttons Bay-Bingham Fire Chief Jim Porter said the fire had apparently originated somewhere in the ceiling of the basement. He sent some of his firefighters down into the basement wearing air packs, but it was so smoky they were unable to pinpoint the fire.

The fire quickly became so hot and the smoke so thick, Porter said, he was forced to order his crew to evacuate the basement. When the fire spread through the main floor to the roof, he pulled everyone out of the structure and shifted firefighting tactics from offense to defense.

In all, there were five tankers shuttling water to the site, two fire engines and a couple of support vehicles at the scene. Even though it was mid-day and a lot of the part-paid “volunteers” were busy at their regular jobs, about 10 of them showed up to help the department’s fulltime staff battle the blaze.

“It’s been very hard, but we’re doing fine,” said Midge Werner, a retired land use planner for Grand Traverse County and a longtime elected member of the Bingham Township Board. She currently serves as the township supervisor, a part-time position.

Ironically, another elected official from Bingham Township, County Commissioner Will Bunek, lost a barn and many valuable possessions in a fire that struck his own property not far from the Werner farm last month.

“And people are always comparing us to Vic Chimoski whose house burned down around this time last summer right in the middle of cherry harvest,” John Werner said. “But it’s not quite the same.”

Although the Werner farm includes a tart cherry orchard that’s ready for harvest, the Werners have been leasing out their orchard for the past few years and are not worried about conducting the harvest themselves.

“We’re just very fortunate that we live in such a great community and have so many wonderful friends and neighbors and family,” Midge Werner said.

She said she and her husband are currently residing with a neighboring couple in their house, and have received several “very generous” offers of longer term housing going forward.

A fire inspector visited their property Monday, and an insurance adjuster visited Tuesday.

No final report has yet been issued about the cause of the blaze. The Werners say they have every intention of staying right where they are.

“Right now we’re busy working the insurance process and we plan to rebuild right here as soon as we can,” Midge Werner said.

Earlier this week, the Werners were sitting outside the burned shell of their home at a picnic table with several friends and neighbors, part of a steady stream of people who have been stopping by to check up on them since last week.

“It’s better to sit on the side of the picnic table facing away from the house,” John Werner said. “The view of the cherry orchard is so much nicer.”

The Werner family first settled the land in 1902. Their home contained many antiques, historic photographs and prized family possessions – all of which are now gone.

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