A working-class neighborhood and a tin roof conspired to contain the fire that broke out in this Brussels home on Tuesday until it was too late for firefighters to save it. Wbay photo used with permission.
A GoFundMe page was established for the Chuck and Kandi Bretl family, whose members lost everything this week when their house in Brussels burned down.
“Everything in it, including the family dog Luna and a family of six kittens, was lost,” wrote Dawn Starr, a lifelong friend and neighbor of the Bretls who started the fundraiser for her friends. “If that wasn’t enough for this family, they lost a shed on the same lot that housed the rest of the items in the early hours of February 9.”
This included a truck, tractor and two vehicles owned by her daughters, Ally and Katie.
Members of the Brussels Union Gardner (BUG) fire brigade were dispatched to the 1681 Pitt Road apartment building at 2:40 p.m. on Tuesday 8 February. Upon arrival, they found the house completely ablaze and beginning to collapse, according to Jim Wautier, BUG’s deputy fire chief.
“It was a big, two-story house, and the top floor had already burned down and collapsed into the basement,” Wautier said when they arrived. “I think the tin roof kept the fire in the house longer because it couldn’t burn through.”
The house is also on a cul-de-sac where all the residents of the neighborhood work during the day, including the Bretls who work for the Algoma School District.
“Actually, it was a construction worker down the street who saw the smoke and drove down and called,” Wautier said.
They put out the fire — which took 31 loads of water, and each load is 2,000 gallons — and then returned around 12:30 a.m. on February 9 to put out a small fire that had reignited in the corner of the basement.
“Because it was so badly burned, and the can [from the roof] covered a lot of stuff in the basement, it was difficult to get it out,” Wautier said. “We had to pull the can.”
A few hours later, at 4:38 a.m., they were dispatched again and found the 30-foot by 50-foot stilt house completely ablaze. A neighbor reported the fire.
The shed was about 80 feet from the house, and Wautier said they inspected it several times. They’d last checked it around 1:30 am and walked around it three or four times after stamping out the re-ignition in the basement.
“We thought beforehand that it must be hot embers from the house fire [that] had gotten into the can and sat on a piece of wood and started doing it 10 hours later,” he said.
Wautier said the cause of the fire was not suspicious but undetermined.
“As bad as the house burned down, I don’t know if they can locate it,” he said.
The Bretls burned wood, Wautier said, and would throw a log or two at it before going to work, as they had for 30 years.
“Today you don’t see total losses anymore,” said Wautier. “But when you get there and it’s all gone, there’s nothing left to save. It is difficult.”
For now, the family has moved in with a relative about a mile away.
The BUG Fire Department was supported by Southern Door, Sturgeon Bay, Casco and Luxembourg Fire Departments; Door County EMS; the Door County Sheriff’s Department and the Wisconsin Civil Service.
The department would like to thank everyone who provided food and water to firefighters at the scene.