After devastating house fire, Livingston family 'can feel community wrapping its arms around us'

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Lindsay Rowe and her family were horrified as a blaze destroyed their century-old Livingston County home last week.

The fire left two pets dead and also affected their longtime business, Rustic Marine.

As most of the Rowes recovered from smoke inhalation and injuries while struggling to grasp their next steps, friends and strangers alike quickly worked to ensure the path was easier.

In the 10 days since the life-changing incident, a GoFundMe campaign has raised nearly $170,000; a business owner has granted the family temporary lodging, plus a new pup; and others are whipping up additional fundraisers and donations.

The Rowes' home was destroyed in the March 13 blaze.

Now, the future is much brighter.

“We never ask for help but people just stepped up,” Lindsay Rowe said. “You can feel the community wrapping its arms around us and it’s been amazing.”

The kindness is a drastic departure from the shock the family received early March 13 at the nearly 20-acre Fenton property they have called home for about three years.

Rowe, her husband AJ and six of their seven children awoke to thick smoke, forcing a harried escape from the second floor.

“The smoke was SO insane, I am not sure how AJ and I managed to even make it out of our bedroom, let alone find each child, but somehow we did. Barely,” Rowe wrote in a Facebook post.

The Rowes, their 4-year-old son, and five daughters ranging in age from 2-13 spent varying stints at University Hospital at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor. Some of the children had broken bones or burns.

A 15-year-old daughter had not been home at the time.

John Cueter, center, didn't know the Rowes before offering his home to them.

The Hartland Deerfield Fire Authority told the family the blaze appears to have started in the laundry room, where a clothes drier had been “acting up” recently, Lindsay Rowe said.

Word about their plight spread immediately.

It reached Kasey Kasprzak, who owns Tanner’s Trove, a Howell business Rowe loves to frequent. Within hours, she launched the GoFundMe effort.

“Rustic Marine is a crew of the most amazing selfless people you will ever meet. They are a family who is constantly giving back to this community and expect nothing in return,” she wrote. “I have been told they don’t know where to even start so I feel this is a good place to begin. They have now lost everything and will be starting all over to rebuild. Let’s rally together and lift this family up. If you can’t donate please share and say a prayer for healing, wisdom and strength.”

It worked.

Through Thursday night, the campaign had raised more than $167,000 of its $200,000 goal. Some of the 2,000-plus contributors donated up to $1,000.

“Surrounding you all in our prayers,” one donor wrote. “Know you are loved by many and God has answered our prayers.”

Another wrote: “We wish you all the best and sending prayers and love from Hawaii. You have a miracle family!”

The generosity extended in other ways as family members, who were released from the hospital within a week, remained homeless and worked through insurance issues.

That’s where John Cueter, who owns Brighton Ford, drove up.

The businessman had been a stranger until the day he offered a house, which he bought last year, for the Rowes to remain in as long as they needed and “as they make plans for their next home,” he said Thursday.

Area business American Flame Design and nonprofit Veterans Connected filled the refrigerator and cupboards with food before they arrived, Rowe said.

“They had surprises and gifts waiting for each kid on their beds,” she wrote on Facebook. “They’ve gone shopping, they’ve visited us at the hospital, they’ve done everything they can think of.”

Cueter also gifted them a Ford F-150 to drive. And this week, he surprised them again, bringing a bubbly, dark-haired Goldendoodle puppy.

“It was part of the healing process for their children,” he said.

That journey has been aided by other fundraisers, including a school bake sale, Rowe said.

She and her husband are continually overcome by the outpouring.

“We have kind of built our business around giving and we’re not used to receiving,” Rowe said. “This has been completely shocking and leaving us completely speechless. We are so grateful and so thankful.”

The family plans to rebuild their dream home as soon as possible. Beyond that, they want to aid others, including through a fire safety event in May with experts to teach escape routes and other useful tips.

There’s more, too, since “the support has been a game changer,” Rowe said. “I can’t even explain how it turned such devastation into something almost beautiful. So I will spend the rest of the year and the years to come to pay back our community.”