HONOR — The click of the gas stovetop was the last thing Ed and Norma Monday heard before an explosion flattened their camper trailer.
That snap of the electric igniter touched off propane that had leaked into their camper, swirling the gas into flames and burying Norma as the walls fell and roof collapsed.
Ed had risen from bed minutes earlier thanks to an insistent wake-up call from Bailey, the Beulah couple’s chocolate Lab puppy. Norma recounted the minutes before and during the explosion and fire to investigators Friday morning after she was released from the hospital.
The campground at Benzie County’s Veterans Memorial Park lingered with a dawn quiet as Ed moved toward the stove to fix a pot of coffee.
It was 6:50 a.m. when he twisted the knob to ignite a burner.
“He took the brunt of the blast,” said Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel.
Flames enveloped the Vietnam veteran, scorching his skin and hair and burning his pajamas, Norma recalled.
“I heard a pop, then a bang,” she said hours later as firefighters doused the smoldering wreckage of their camper. “I screamed — ‘I can’t move, I’m trapped.’”
Norma’s shouts reached across the trailer to her husband of 43 years, said Sammy Seymour, a Michigan State Police trooper. Seymour was among the first on the scene.
“That’s when (Ed) came over and lifted the roof off of her,” Seymour said.
Ed’s lift gave Norma a chance to crawl out from the camper, which by then was engulfed in flames, said MSP spokesman Derrick Carroll.
Bailey jumped for the same escape route.
But Ed wasn’t done.
He escaped the camper himself and turned to the propane tank, managing to close the valve, Carroll said. Then, the 67-year-old ran back inside the camper to recover their guns and ammunition.
“Mind you — this is somebody who’s been set on fire and been burned,” Seymour said, noting Ed’s efforts likely saved nearby campers from a second explosion.
He was working on unhooking the camper from his pickup as other campers crowded around, calling 911, helping 60-year-old Norma and insisting Ed could leave the task to them.
Homestead and Inland Township volunteer firefighters reached the scene in less than 9 minutes, Seymour said, with EMS narrowly beating them. First responders rushed to render aid, and by the time Seymour rolled up, both Ed and Norma were being treated on-scene. Both were taken to Munson Medical Center — Norma, to be released later that morning — and treated for their burns. Ed, “the real hero,” has since been transferred to Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Carroll said.
Norma was left with charred hair and burns to her hand and face, while Ed survived with second- and third-degree burns across 35 to 40 percent of his body.
The camper was a pile of blackened belongings and irreparable bits of wood and canvas by the time firefighters extinguished the blaze. They remained at the scene throughout the day.
One possession was rescued, though — a good Samaritan managed to save Ed’s hat, which boasts his Purple Heart medal.
An MSP fire marshall arrived at the campsite soon after to parse out the explosion’s cause. Schendel suspects a gas leak or propane tank left on overnight.
Norma said Friday she would soon join her husband Grand Rapids — Ed’s words spoken to her before she left the hospital in her mind.
“‘I wasn’t going to leave without you,’” she echoed.