'You have to have hope'

Community rallies for pair following house fire

REED CITY — In only 30 minutes, the home and most of the possessions of Jo Hyden and Dennis Leusby were reduced to ash, gone forever.

Leusby, who is friends with Hyden and rents a bedroom in her home off 9 Mile Road in Lincoln Township, turned on the television in the living room after starting his plow truck around 9 p.m. on Jan. 22. While watching part of a program, he said he heard an odd noise.

"I was sitting there and I kept hearing a crackling sound, but I couldn't figure out what it was," Leusby said. "I turned the TV off, walked around the house and checked the rooms, but didn't hear anything. I turned the TV back on and heard the crackling sound again, this time behind me. There was no smoke, so the smoke alarms weren't going off. I looked up and the ceiling was orange."

Knowing the danger, he yelled for Hyden, who was sound asleep in another bedroom. Grabbing her, they made it out of the front door just before the ceiling collapsed and fire spread. Once outside, both began searching for ways to salvage any of their possessions. Leusby broke a side window to a bedroom where he stored his hunting gear, fishing gear and guitars, but was unable to get inside.

"The smoke was so thick you couldn't see in front of your nose," he said. "You couldn't breathe."

Hyden ran back inside to grab as many photographs as possible.

"I grabbed them because that was the only thing I could think of that people say they didn't want to lose," Hyden explained. "They can't be replaced."

Fire departments from Reed City, Ashton and LeRoy responded to the blaze, but the sub-zero temperatures froze the hoses. The home was a total loss.

"In 30 minutes it was gone," Hyden said. "Everything we owned went up in flames."

But the pair aren't pointing fingers or placing blame.

"It wasn't the firefighters' fault that the hoses froze," Leusby said. "They did everything they could do. We're really appreciative of their services."

The fire department determined the fire started from a pellet stove, he added.

Since the home's destruction, the pair have been trying their best to push forward. Hyden continues to waitress at the Seven Slot Grill in Reed City and Leusby plows private property during the winter. They said they still hope to find a few salvageable possessions in the wreckage.

"We'll wait until the weather breaks and then go pick through it," Hyden said. "We'll clear the area and start over."

For now, the friends are residing in an apartment offered by a restaurant customer, and Seven Slot Grill owners Doug and Christy Wallace have set out a donation jar at the eatery for those wishing to help.

"The community support has been awesome," Hyden added. "The jar has been full every day, people have brought us clothes, food and blankets, businesses have contributed and The Inc. Spot is going to help us with furniture. They've all been wonderful."

Christy said there was no hesitation to provide assistance to her six-year employee.

"She's like family," she said of Hyden. "When I found out about the fire, I don't think I slept that night. All I could think about was how I could help them."

Restaurant patrons who have seen the jar and heard the story of the blaze have been increasingly supportive, offering what they can, giving extra tips and donating extra dollars, Christy added.

Hyden's appreciation for her employer's kindness knows no bounds.

"They've been amazing," she said. "It really makes me feel appreciated as a worker."

Through the pair's hardships comes positive attitude and a commitment to look forward rather than backward.

"You have to put your nose to the ground and keep going," Leusby said. "You have to have hope and take it one day at a time."