TRAVERSE CITY — Naomi Phillips couldn't say she knew her neighbors well, the older couple named Rackow who lived on Ramsay Road in rural Grand Traverse County.
Phillips has been in her house for 40 years, and always exchanged hellos and pleasantries with the Rackows, even if they weren't close. Now she's about to learn more, after a fire that destroyed the neighbors' home, and where a man's body — presumably that of William Rackow, 76, — was found inside the debris.
Phillips and her other Grant Township neighbors share suspicions about a string of suspicious fires that popped up over the past several years. She said Thursday afternoon's blaze stoked her suspicions about an arsonist.
"They could do it to anyone," she said. "There's no reason they couldn't do it to us if they took a notion."
A neighbor called authorities Thursday about 6:30 p.m. and reported the fire at 9189 Ramsay Road.
Grand Traverse Rural Fire Chief Theo Weber said fire consumed the home by the time firefighters arrived. They didn't initially know if the two known occupants were inside.
"After they suppressed the fire, the body of an unidentified male was found in the residence," said Grand Traverse County sheriff's Capt. Chris Clark.
Neighbors presumed the body belonged to William Rackow. Secretary of State records show Rackow and Margaret Ann Rackow, 70, lived there.
Undersheriff Nate Alger said investigators can't confirm whether the body was one of the residents, thanks to fire damage. He said investigators are conducting DNA tests that could take days or weeks to confirm an identity.
Alger said deputies interviewed one resident, but they don't know for sure if she was inside when the fire started.
The fire is the latest in a spate of suspicious fires reported in that area of Grant Township that burned vacant structures, barns and hay bales. Alger said an unsolved Nov. 25 fire in a pole barn on the same property raises suspicions about Thursday's blaze.