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Two neighboring houses burn in North Brainerd

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

Fire swept from one north Brainerd home into another early Friday morning.

Three fire departments with about 36 firefighters worked to keep the fires from spreading on the 200 block of North Ninth Street.

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The fire started on a gas stove in the lower level apartment at 220 North Ninth St. It then worked its way to the second floor and attic. Just after 1 a.m. flames were shooting out the back of the home and flaring into a column from a hole in the roof. The fire is believed to have started as food was left cooking unattended.

The prevailing breeze and fire shooting from a main-floor window carried the fire the few feet between homes. Just when it appeared firefighters were making progress on the first home, the house next door started to have an ominous glow.

Jason Powers, 33, arrived home at 220 North Ninth St. just after midnight. He turned on the TV and expected to relax after work in his upstairs apartment that has been his home for three years. His downstairs neighbor came up to visit. A short time later they smelled smoke. Powers said they knew immediately it was serious and rushed to get out of the building.

“As soon as we go outside you could see flames out the back,” he said. “I ran out like no shoes, no socks.”

Once they were outside, the downstairs neighbor called 911. In the split seconds he had to leave, Powers left his wallet and keys inside but on the way out grabbed his phone charger and an armload stack of CDs.

“I was like, I’m grabbing that,” he said of his music collection. “I didn’t even think of my shoes.”

Powers called his brother Tony who luckily had an extra pair of shoes in his vehicle. The fire’s damage was largely confined to his kitchen, roof and bathroom, meaning his books, collectibles and most of his belongings should have been unscathed.

“We’ve been talking the whole time how scary it is to be them,” Tony Powers said of the firefighters.

White smoke continued to bloom from the roofs of both houses. The brothers watched as a firefighter went to the edge of the aerial ladder and used an ax to open a way into the attic of the unoccupied neighboring house at 218 N. Ninth St. The renters at 218 North Ninth St. moved out just a day or two earlier.

The second home proved to be an even greater challenge after the roof partially collapsed. Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek said the collapsed structure at the back of the home made the fire difficult to attack from the inside.

And the unpredictability of the roof’s integrity made it tricky to put firefighters up there. A firefighter climbed out to the last rung of the aerial ladder, used an ax to gain access to the peak at the front of the house and directed the strong force of the hose through the opening.

Soon water was gushing from under the roofline. Firefighters later climbed to roof and used saws to cut through the shingles to get access to the rafters.

As the Powers brothers waited out on the street in front of the houses, a firefighter brought out Jason’s wallet and keys. As he drove to Brainerd, Tony Powers said a Nisswa Fire Truck raced past him on the way to the scene. His brother already told him the house was burning to the ground. The brothers were using humor to keep the night in perspective. Tony Powers said the house was still there and this time if he was pulled over and an officer asked him where the fire was he had an answer. His brother’s place.

Matt Gottwalt has owned the house at 218 N. Ninth for about two-and-a-half years. He watched as firefighters took off sections of the roof in an attempt to reach the fire. He just returned from an out-of-state trip to hear the news of the house fire. He confirmed the renters just moved out.

On the other side of the fire, Brainerd Police officers woke neighbors on the corner lot to the north evacuating the house as a precaution. Live downed wires sparked in the backyard between the homes.

Stunek said Friday afternoon he visited the two homes twice and there were no flare-ups. Each of the two homes sustained damages in the range of $40,000 to $50,000, he said, noting those were conservative estimates.

Firefighters from Brainerd, Nisswa and Crosby worked to contain the fires. Mild temperatures earlier in the day gave way to a chilly and downright cold breeze after midnight but it was a far cry from the bitter, below-zero conditions facing firefighters recently.

Stunek praised the work of the crews saying they were faced with two burning houses and at the end of the night, both houses were still standing. Pillager Fire Department assisted by staffing Brainerd’s fire house in case another call came while crews were still working the double house fire scene. North Memorial Ambulance and the Brainerd Police Department assisted at the scene.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.

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