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Downtown fire claims Brainerd man's life; building a complete loss

As Deputy State Fire Marshall Mark Germain (left) walks out of a downtown Brainerd building Tuesday morning, Firefighters from Brainerd and Deerwood shield the public before the body of a Brainerd man is carried to a waiting vehicle. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls1 / 2
Fire still smolders Tuesday morning at 402 Front Street in Brainerd after fire swept through the building taking a life of a tenant and his dog. The building houses a law office with apartment units upstairs. One of the tenants escaped. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls2 / 2

A Brainerd man lost his life Tuesday when the apartment he rented in downtown Brainerd was destroyed by fire. The fire also may have claimed his black poodle.

The Brainerd Fire Department was called just after 3 a.m. to the fire at a building on 402 Front St. The building, located a block north from the historic Crow Wing County Courthouse, hosts a law office on the main floor and two apartments on the second floor. There also is a small business on the south end of the building that was destroyed.

Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek said when firefighters arrived on scene there was heavy smoke and flames pouring out the windows on the southeast corner of the building. Two fire crews were sent inside of the burning building. They made it to the top of the second floor, but the flames and smoke were too strong and they were forced to go back down the stairs and to fight the fire defensively, Stunek said.

About 40 firefighters from Brainerd, Nisswa and Deerwood fought the fire most of the morning, along with Brainerd's two ladder trucks and two engines. The fire departments were able to knock down the fire by 10:30 a.m.

Stunek said it appears the fire started on the second floor and the Minnesota State Fire Marshal's office is investigating. The cause of the fire is not known at this time.

Around mid-morning, two to three fire crews searched the second floor and found the body of the man in his upstairs apartment, Stunek said. The body was transported to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's office for identification.

"It has been a long time since we've had a fire death in Brainerd," said Stunek. "Anytime there is a fire fatality we think of the families."

Attorney Dennis Lothspeich, who owns the building with James Fossum, said they rent the upstairs apartment to two tenants. He said one of the tenants was able to escape.

"He got out with no shoes on went across the street and went to the jail and called the fire department," said Lothspeich. "We're very thankful he got out and very sad (the other tenant) didn't."

Lothspeich said the tenant who died rented the apartment from them for many years.

"He lived there with Mista, his little black poodle," Lothspeich said. "He was an interesting character. He was honorably discharged from the Marine Corp. He was a great guy but he had his demons. His health was poor. He was not very mobile."

Lothspeich said "firefighters were great" in assisting himself and attorney Patti Aanes with getting their open work files and cabinets out of the building. Aanes said she had files in the office that were 20 years old.

"We managed to get a lot of our files back," said Lothspeich. "They are a little soggy, but they are salvageable. Our computers are back up and running, our telephone calls are being transferred and we hope to be up and running in a few days. We just have to find some office space."

Lothspeich said it is unclear at this point if they will rebuild.

Lothspeich said this is not the first time his law office has been on fire. He said there was a fire at his former office on the 600 block of Oak Street in 1994. That fire was arson, he said, started after someone bombed Planned Parenthood, which was located next to his office. His office had water and smoke damage and he was able to remodel the building.

Aanes said her thoughts go out first to the people who were in the building and were impacted by the fire.

As for her professional office space being destroyed by fire, Aanes said, "Working in an adversarial legal system where our colleagues are our opposition, yet seeing the support of my legal colleagues after the fire was tremendous. ... I'm really thankful to be part of this legal community.

"By 9 a.m. I had multiple colleagues reach out to me to offer help."

Assisting the Brainerd Fire Department on the scene were the Deerwood and Nisswa fire departments, Brainerd Police Department, Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office and North Memorial Ambulance. The Crosby Fire Department provided mutual aid and manned the fire hall.

Law enforcement blocked traffic on Laurel Street and by the railroad tracks off Washington Street to give firefighters room to fight the fire, backing up the morning commute as people made their way to work or to school.

Brainerd firefighter Cory Zeien had a minor ankle injury from fighting the fire but is OK, fire officials reported.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at jennifer.stockinger@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5851. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl.

Jennifer Kraus

A big part of my day is chasing down tips on a variety of breaking news stories, relating to vehicle crashes, fires, police incidents and court cases. I’m always thankful when people call in tips to alert me on an incident so I can follow up and see if the tip is actually something that occurred or is a rumor. It’s a big scope to keep track of as we not only cover Brainerd and Crow Wing County incidents, but we also cover the surrounding counties and cities. I also gather information on the entertainment scene, so if you are hosting a band or choir concert, an art exhibit, a play or other theater production -- I want to hear about it. If you know of a story on any of these beats, give me a shout! To help support local journalism, click here to sign up to receive a Dispatch digital subscription to our e-edition or to receive the printed paper at your door, or to get both.

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