On Sunday afternoon, Aug. 5, while the extended Brown family was celebrating the baptism of three children at the family home on East Huron River Drive, an explosion tore a hole in the wall at the back of the Brown Funeral Home across the street and set the unoccupied building on fire.
The fire burned into the night, but most of the building was saved and on Tuesday David and Martha Brown said the business is going on as usual, using other facilities. The phone number is still the same.
David said several churches have offered the use of their buildings.
Martha said Michigan State Police fire investigators told her earlier Tuesday they found the fire to be electrical in nature. She said although rumors have been going around about a grill on the deck of the upstairs living quarters starting the blaze, that is not true.
She said the fire investigators found nothing wrong with the grill and determined the explosion that tore a hole in the wall was in the back room behind the prep room on the ground floor.
Shelly Brown Willick, her husband Rick Willick, and their two children occupy the second-floor living quarters that burned completely.
Martha said the young family lost everything, but an overwhelming number of people have brought clothing, so they are all set on clothes for the children.
Several benefits are being set to help raise cash to help the family recover from its financial losses.
On Monday, Kathie Steigerwald, who works at the funeral home, went to the Dearborn Fire Fighters, who opened their hearts and provided store gifts cards and food for the family. She drove from her Dearborn home to Belleville with her car stuffed full of clothing donations.
“Rich has done so much for the Moose Lodge,” Steigerwald said, adding the Belleville Moose is planning a benefit and the details will be announced. Those wishing more information may call Steigerwald at 313-570-6115.
Luke Willick was very frail when born, several years ago, so he was baptized immediately. It was Seth Willick, born this summer, and Rick’s children from a previous marriage, Madison and Izaha, who were all baptized on Sunday. The happy event turned to sadness when Izaha ran in from outside and announced to the gathering that the funeral home across the street was burning.
Steigerwald recalls how hard Shelly had to fight to get some of the specialized equipment for little Luke, so she could handle the special-needs child. Much of that was destroyed in the blaze.
“Everybody’s going to be taken care of,” Steigerwald promised. “They will rebuild.”
Both Martha and David Brown emphasized that resolve on Tuesday morning. They are continuing in business and they will rebuild.
Four fire departments responded to the working fire at 460 E. Huron River Drive in Belleville after the 6:27 p.m. call to 911 call reported the fire. On hand besides Belleville, were Van Buren Township, Romulus, and Sumpter Township.
The fire was put out around 9:15 p.m., and the last crews left around 1:20 a.m. But, on Monday morning there still was some smoke smolding in the roof.
On Monday, Belfor, a private board-up company hired by the owners, secured the property.
VBT Fire Chief Dan Besson took control of the fire fighting in the absence of Belleville Fire Chief Brian Loranger, who was in California, a pre-arranged agreement before Loranger left town. Besson lives in Belleville, about two blocks from the funeral home.
Belleville Police Cpl. Todd Schrecengost took charge of police aid at and around the site of the fire.
Chief Besson said about 30% of the building was involved and there were no bodies or families inside the building for viewing, which was fortunate.
Besson said two fire fighters were treated for dehydration and one VBT fire fighter was transported to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital for dehydration, after working on the roof to cut holes. The five-year veteran of the fire department was treated and released and was resting at home on Tuesday.
There were no other injuries.
Besson said mutual aid was requested from Romulus Fire Department, which furnished an aerial ladder truck and manpower; Sumpter Township FD, which sent manpower; Canton Township, which covered the north end for VBT; and Ypsilanti Township Fire Dept., which offered south end coverage for VBT.
Crews needed to be rotated frequently due to the heat, Besson said. Canton handled a north end medical emergency, along with HVA, while fire fighters were occupied in Belleville.
Additional assistance, including refreshments and supplies, was provided by numerous private citizens and auxiliary group, including the Belleville Ladies’ Fire Auxiliary, VBT Ladies’ Fire Auxiliary, and the Tri-Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
“A great big thank you to everyone that helped us out,” Besson said.
On Monday afternoon, VBT Fire Department called Belleville FD for mutual aid to help fight a fire in Archwood Apartments on the I-94 North Service Drive, at Haggerty Road.