Traverse City Record-Eagle

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February 4, 2014

Camper fire prompts gifts to 'Mountain Man'

TRAVERSE CITY — Two boxes, a VHS tape and a pair of rubber boots. All blackened, all reeking.

This was the “keep” pile. A melted glove was fused to a blackened box, its plastic rolled back like a sneer to expose bright white medicine box teeth. William James Berkshire III broke off the glove, tossed it into the dumpster, adding the remains of his First Aid kit to the salvage pile.

Berkshire tried to put out the fire himself, as a raw spot on his nose and his Teamster-button ball cap with a singed American Legion poppy testifies. But the fire tore through his camper quickly Sunday night and he couldn’t stop it, Berkshire said. The Growler camper, parked at Roy’s General Store on Hammond Road, was gutted.

“The door to the wood stove blew open and flames shot out three feet,” Berkshire said. “I don’t know what happened.”

Fires move fast in campers, which are typically constructed of combustible materials like paneling and press board, said Pat Parker, chief at Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department. The Fire Department took the call at 6:15 p.m. Sunday, but once the flames got into the mattress, the fire “took off,” Parker said.

Propane costs make burning wood more attractive in a camper, Parker said. Heavy snows in the state parks also make it difficult for someone like Berkshire to camp on the public land this winter, he said.

“His whole life possessions were in the trailer,” Parker said of Berkshire. “I’m glad he got out. You can replace a trailer but you can’t replace a life.”

An outpouring of support to help Berkshire after the blaze moved as quickly as the flames. The decision to replace Berkshire’s camper took about 30 seconds to make, said Rob Hentschel, former county commissioner and Roy’s chief executive officer.

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