‘Worst nightmare’: Family deals with aftermath of house fire

Bob and Sandy Bannan hold a statuette of the Virgin Mary, one of the few objects that survived a fire that destroyed their Ishpeming Township home Monday afternoon. (Journal photo by Ryan Jarvi)

MARQUETTE — A few older dogs and two litters of puppies, a feline friend, financial and medical records, family heirlooms and documents spanning at least a century — all of it was in a home full of 15 years worth of memories, and for Bob and Sandy Bannan, it all went up in smoke Monday afternoon.

Past where the pavement ends along Marquette County Road 510, the Bannan’s Ishpeming Township property is situated atop a hill. It includes a detached garage, and some outbuildings and fenced-in pens, where they keep animals like horses, pigs and goats, while a few of the family’s Chow Chows and other dogs roam the surrounding woods.

Around 3:30 p.m. Monday, the couple was driving home. When he first saw the gray haze in the sky, Bob thought it might have just been some low-flying clouds. But as they got closer to their place, he said the clouds began to look more and more like smoke.

Maybe it was one of the Bannans’ neighbors who burns brush once or twice a year, Bob thought. But the neighbor usually calls them when that happens, and they didn’t get a call.

As the couple drove up to their property, Sandy said they saw their “worst nightmare.”

Sandy Bannan searches through rubble of the house fire that destroyed her home Monday afternoon along Marquette County Road 510 in Ishpeming Township. Officials said the investigation of the incident has been closed with the cause of the fire undetermined. (Journal photo by Ryan Jarvi)

The Bannans’ two-story home was on fire and “billowing smoke,” Bob said.

“There were no flames outside yet, but you could tell there was a lot of activity going on inside,” he added. “And we came up, Sandy started to run in to try to save some of her animals.”

She left the vehicle and raced to the structure, got on her hands and knees and crawled for the front door.

“I got to the porch door and opened the screen door and that was about it,” Sandy explained.

“She was frantic, believe me,” Bob said. “She did more screaming in the next 45 minutes than I’ve ever heard her do — at anything, for anything — because all of her critters were in there.”

Pictured are religious objects that suffered damage during a house fire that occurred Monday afternoon along Marquette County Road 510 in Ishpeming Township. (Journal photo by Ryan Jarvi)

Sandy raises Chihuahuas, and there were some 15 dogs, puppies included, inside at the time the house caught fire. Bob’s cat was keeping them company. All of them perished.

“The smoke was so bad that — it was so bad and black that I’m sure the fumes took them right away,” Sandy said.

The fire ate through the entire house, weakening and undermining the structure until it finally collapsed on itself.

“It was totally disgusting,” Bob said, “because I realized that everything we owned, everything we cherished was gone.”

The charred wood and family belongings were drenched with water from firefighters hoses and later raked into piles of blackened debris by a neighbor’s backhoe, so that fire crews could make sure the deepest embers wouldn’t continue to burn.

A nearby bird feeder suffered damage during a house fire on Marquette County Road 510 in Ishpeming Township. (Journal photo by Ryan Jarvi)

First responders left the scene around 9:30 p.m. Monday, and officials said the cause of the fire was undetermined.

“When I asked the chief and that, they said … probably electrical, something like that,” Bob explained. “We’ll probably never know because it devastated everything so badly. … It’s like somebody just closed the damn door behind you, and now where you going to go?”

The Bannans did have insurance on their home and the contents, but they aren’t sure whether they’ll build a new house or fix up the top story of the unfinished garage to live in.

“We’re staying with family right now, and it’s a matter of getting through the ‘official’ part, you know, the fire inspector, the insurance adjuster — all that,” Sandy explained.

Collectively, the couple has 10 children who live in various parts of the country and who have offered their support in different ways, one of which being the creation of an online fundraising campaign for their parents.

“They started a fund for us and the donations are unbelievable and so helpful because we don’t know what we’re going to need to take care of next,” Sandy said.

As of Thursday afternoon, donations to the Bannans’ fundraising site had reached more than $3,600.

“We really appreciate everybody’s support and concern … gifts, donations, emails, calls just from everybody,” Sandy said. “As hard as it is, it makes it just a little bit easier to bear, and so we really do appreciate it and I hope everybody realizes that.”

Bob echoed his wife and said support has been coming from everywhere, even when they were waiting in the checkout line at a local store.

“Somehow (the fire) came up, and there was an elderly woman behind us and she handed me a $20 bill. And she said ‘Here, take this.’ I was like, ‘Oh, thank you,'” he said, his voice softening to a whisper. “Pretty touching.”

They weren’t sure how the tragedy might change their lives for the future, but Sandy did decide to finally retire from her position as a therapist at Teaching Family Homes, where she’d been employed part-time working with abused and neglected children. She’s also worked with the Families First program, which is aimed at developing healthy relationships in families through short-term crisis intervention and education.

For the past 20 years or so Bob has coordinated the Toys for Tots program. He’s also served as an employee assistance program counselor, a hockey coach, Boy Scouts leader, mentor to disabled veterans and volunteered with the No Veteran Dies Alone program. But it doesn’t seem likely he’ll quit.

“I do believe,” he said, “that the best things we get out of life are from what we give.”

Those interested in supporting the Bannans can visit http://bit.ly/ 2oOIQZM.

Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is rjarvi@miningjournal.net.