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18-month-old granddaughter is a hero to family devastated by house fire.

Little Alexis doesn’t say much. She is, after all, barely 18 months old. But the one word everyone in her family is grateful Alexis knows to say is “smoke.”

Kellie Townley said she was asleep as the attic of her Merrifield home caught fire, billowing smoke into the other end of the home where she lives with her fiance, daughter and granddaughter, 18-month-old Alexis.

As Alexis’ mother searched for a source of the smoke, Alexis went to the other side of the home and found Townley sleeping. “She said, ‘Smoke, smoke,’” Townley recalled. “She’s our little hero.”

Townley, her fiance, her daughter and granddaughter were at home when the fire broke out. Townley said her daughter, who asked not to be named, saw smoke in the house and began looking for a source. That’s when little Alexis woke Townley.

“I got up and looked at the ceiling and all there was smoke,” she said.

Townley said she could see flames about the size of a basketball coming from a small furnace closet in the attic of the home. When Townley opened the door she said the whole attic was engulfed. “It was way bigger than I could see,” she said.

Townley said a man, who was not identified, was driving by and came to the door after seeing the flames coming from the roof of the home.

Townley said they attempted to put the flames out with two fire extinguishers but the fire was already too big.

“It didn’t even budge,” she said.

“I thought maybe we could control it and get it out ourselves. I knew we would be in trouble — but I didn’t expect this.”

Townley said when she realized the fire would not be extinguished she grabbed her phone, some cash and her cat and got out.

Nisswa Fire Chief Richard Geike said Wednesday that the home was a total loss. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

Townley returned to the home Thursday for the first time since the fire was extinguished by Nisswa firefighters. “There’s just nothing,” she said of the remains of the home. “It’s just charred. I mean, everything is gone.”

Townley and her family are currently staying in a hotel provided by the Red Cross but that stay ends Saturday.

“I don’t have,” a plan after that, Townley said. “We do need some place to live.”

Tammy Anderson, owner and manager of the Wings Cafe at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, where Townley works, said she would make a collection box available for people to drop off items for Townley and her family and is asking community members to drop off gently used items. “They have to start over,” Anderson said. “They don’t have a place to live. They need everything.”

Anderson, who took ownership of the Wings Cafe with her husband, Guy, in September of 2012, worked with Townley at the Eagles Club in Brainerd before moving to Wings Cafe. Anderson said she was saddened to hear of Townley’s loss and wanted to do something to help.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “It’s all the things that you can’t replace.”

“We’re still here though,” Townley said. “That’s what matters the most.”

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at or 855-5879.

Items needed for fire victims


Women’s pants, size 5 or 7

Shirts size medium

Women’s shoes, size 8

Men’s pants, 36 or 38 waist, 32 length

Shirts size xx-large

Men’s shoes size 11

Toddler size 18-24 months

Household items including kitchen items, non-perishable foods, toiletries, etc.

Fire relief fund established for Merrifield fire victims

U.S. Bank in Brainerd has established a fire relief fund. Make monetary donations at U.S. Bank at 320 South Sixth Street Brainerd to: the Kellie Townley Fund. Items for the Townley family may be dropped off at the Brainerd Dispatch at 506 James Street in Brainerd, Wings Cafe at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport or The Eagles Club at 124 Front Street in Brainerd.

Donors are asked to bring items during regular business hours.