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Anna Erickson and Jean Ruzicka, Forum News Service, Published May 15 2013

Some in Minnesota fire’s path luckier than others

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. – Contractors arriving to repair fire damage on Judy and Don Dulski’s log home on County Road 111 near Menahga on Wednesday estimate the structure would have been destroyed if the plane dropping water on the wood-shingled roof had come just two minutes later.

Their gazebo was a loss, along with a sauna and hot tub inside, and a tree was taken down because of live embers.

But the home that Judy designed and Don built is intact.

Rachelle Kern and her family were not as lucky. They lost everything in the fire.

She and husband Frank have three children, ages 5, 8 and 21.

“We lost toys, we lost clothes, we lost beds,” she said. “Our house is in a pool of ashes.”

No one was home at the time and no one was injured.

“I was at work and Frank called me about 3:30 and said, ‘I’m heading home because there’s a fire by our house,’ ” she said. “I thought, ‘no big deal, just a grass fire.’ But then I didn’t hear back from him right away.”

They discovered their home was on fire.

“I have horses, so me, my daughter, Frank and a couple friends went in the back and cut the fence to get the horses out of there,” Rachelle said. “I’m still looking for one dog. I lost two cats and three bunnies in the house.”

Her family is staying with Frank’s parents right now and they will be talking with someone from the Red Cross about assistance to help them get into more permanent housing.

“I’m truly blessed that none of us got hurt and I’m truly thankful for that,” Rachelle said.

For the Dulskis, a three-hour wait in the Straight River Town Hall before being allowed to check on their home was seemingly interminable, Judy said. Not only were they concerned for the condition of their home after seeing flames encroaching as they left, but one of their cats could not be found before departure.

They loaded three dogs and one of their cats in the car, but their second feline ducked behind a wall of the gazebo.

Arriving home, they determined there was “no way” the cat could have survived. But it soon appeared, its eyes singed and the pads on its paws “hanging.”

The cat is now recuperating at the veterinarian’s office.

The fire seemed to have selected its structural victims randomly, she said.

She said their neighbors lost their garage, but the house is fine.

Don Guida left his Park Rapids business, Blueberry Log and Timber, on Tuesday afternoon and noticed a small brush fire not far away but didn’t pay it much attention.

Less than a half-hour later, that small brush fire had blown into a devastating inferno that would consume 70-year-old Guida’s life’s work.

“Every piece of equipment, tool, anything of any value on the property was destroyed,” said Travis Guida, Don Guida’s son.

Along with equipment, the fire destroyed the life blood of the business: the surrounding timber and processed logs yet to be sold. Travis Guida said the equipment and property was probably valued around $200,000 while the timber and logs would add up to a loss worth several hundred thousand dollars.

Travis Guida said the monetary loss is nothing compared to what could have been lost if his father had not left the property before the fire arrived.

“Had he been there, what would he have done?” Guida said. “I don’t think anyone realized how significant it was until you’re absolutely in the middle of it.”

Travis Guida said his father and mother, Lynette, had owned and operated the timber business 10 miles southwest of Park Rapids for more than 30 years.

Dick Myers lives near the Twin Lakes area and was among those who were evacuated Tuesday night.

“The fire got within a block or two of our place, but we’re doing OK,” he said.

He was able to return Wednesday and said some of his neighbors had damage.

Myers was appreciative of the firefighters and law enforcement who worked hard to protect his home. He also appreciated the Park Rapids Royal Bar management, who stepped up and gave out meals to displaced residents.

The Red Cross center has moved to Laestadian Lutheran Church in Menahga, according to Red Cross communications manager Lynette Nyman. It had been at Sebeka School.

The Red Cross was scheduled to be at a public meeting at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Menahga School; updates were scheduled to be given to residents who were displaced by the fire.


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Forum reporter Wendy Reuer contributed to this story.