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As their home burns, Minnesota siblings execute fire drill plan and survive

Lindsay Belland walks through the burned-out kitchen of her home on North Greeley Street in Stillwater Thursday, Aug. 23. The family lost everything in a fire Monday. Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press

STILLWATER, Minn.—When a fire broke out at their Stillwater house on Monday morning, Dan Hintze and Lindsay Belland's kids knew what to do.

Their oldest son, Collin Hintze, 14, ran upstairs to rescue his 6-year-old sister Lorelai, who has special needs. Daughter Ella Belland, 13, ran outside to get help.

"When seconds counted, they did exactly what they were supposed to do," Lindsay Belland said Thursday. "They didn't panic, and they are 14 and 13. I feel like most adults would panic. They really acted in a way that was far beyond their years."

Collin, who will be a ninth-grader at East Ridge High School in Woodbury, had to run through thick, black smoke to find Lorelai, who was hiding under a blanket in her second-floor bedroom in the house at 111 Greeley St. N.

"She was clinging to the door jamb, she was so frightened, and Collin grabbed her, and he got her outside," Dan Hintze said.

"He couldn't see the hand in front of his face because there was that much smoke," Belland said. "Collin saved Lorelai; he saved our youngest."

At the same time, Ella, who will be a seventh-grader at Stillwater Middle School, was running outside to find help. She found Josh Thron, the owner of A Helping Hand Yard Maintenance, mowing the lawn two houses over. Thron ran back to the house, helped rescue Collin and Lorelai and called 911.

Years of practicing paid off, Lindsay Belland said.

Smoke-damaged family photographs are seen on the wall of Lindsay Belland’s living room. Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press

"I grew up doing fire drills, and we had our kids do the same," she said. "They all knew to get out of the house .... We have always just done that — every place that we have lived."

"I never thought in a million years that we would ever be going through something like this," she said.

Cause unknown

On Thursday, Belland walked through the charred remains of the house, which is a total loss.

The Nestle Toll House chocolate-chip cookies that Ella baked right before the fire broke out were still on cookie sheets melted to the top of the oven; the oven had been turned off.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. It is believed to have started in a back bedroom and may be electrical in nature, Belland said. The house was built in 1868.

The family moved to Stillwater eight years ago and purchased the house three years ago after renting a house around the corner for five years.

Memories gone

On Thursday, they were mourning the loss of all of their possessions.

"All of our memories I keep crying over," Belland said. "I'm never going to get back the first outfits that I bought my babies. I'm never going to be able to get their hospital bracelets back."

Her wedding ring, removed because of her job as a pediatric massage therapist, was in a jewelry box "that was completely obliterated," she said.

"It wasn't like a hodgepodge house," she said. "Everything in our house had a place, and it had a meaning, and it had a memory attached to it. Our youngest daughter is special needs, and all of her sensory stuff is gone. Ella (who was born with a severe hearing loss) wears bilateral cochlear implants, and all of the equipment and batteries and her charger for her devices are gone."

Only one family heirloom — a china set brought to Minnesota by Belland's great-grandmother Alice Bauman when she emigrated from Denmark — might be saved, she said, though it cracked a little bit from the heat.

"Nothing in the house is salvageable," said Hintze, who is a flooring installer for Peterson Hardwood Floors. "What the fire didn't destroy, smoke and water did. We're going to take it down to the bare beams."

The family is living in a townhome in the Millbrook neighborhood in Stillwater. They plan to rebuild on site.

Hintze and Belland said they are grateful the family's two dogs, Remy, a lab-husky mix, and Daphne, an American Staffordshire terrier, were on leashes outside the house when the fire started.

"They are both really good dogs and definitely part of our family," Belland said. "Daphne is prone to hiding when she is scared, so I can only imagine what she would have done had she been inside."

"Things could have been so much worse," she said. "We think of that girl down in Iowa, who lost her life. We're fortunate we had no loss of life. We didn't lose our kids; we didn't lose our dogs; we have each other."

How to help

A GoFundMe has been set up to help the family at https://www.gofundme.com/belland-family-house-fire.

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