Arson to blame in Salem WEST fire
DEERWOOD--A fire--ruled an arson--not only destroyed two structures early Wednesday morning in Deerwood, but destroyed hope in close to 30 families in need.
DEERWOOD-A fire-ruled an arson-not only destroyed two structures early Wednesday morning in Deerwood, but destroyed hope in close to 30 families in need.
Fire consumed Salem WEST in Deerwood, a donation center established by the Salem Lutheran Church that serves as a storage site for donated clothing and household goods delivered to families in need. The fire also damaged a neighboring detached garage.
Deerwood firefighters were dispatched at 12:01 a.m., and upon arrival, Deerwood Fire Chief Mike Bodle said the detached garage and Salem WEST were fully engulfed, with flames and smoke billowing through the roof.
About 30 firefighters, which included mutual aid from the Crosby Fire Department, extinguished the fire. Firefighters were on scene until about 4 a.m. fighting the fire and conducting overhaul, making sure no hot spots lingered.
Firefighters salvaged a small portion of the Salem WEST building, but a majority was destroyed. Some walls remained standing but clothing and household items inside the building were destroyed. A large package of Bounty paper towels, burned halfway through, sat in front of the entrance of the Salem building on the 23000 block of Cross Drive in Deerwood. Bodle said the insurance company will determine whether the building and contents are a total loss.
Bodle said it appears the fire started between the detached garage and Salem WEST. State Fire Marshal Mark Germain was called to investigate the fire and arrived mid-morning to begin his investigation.
About noon Wednesday, Bodle said the fire was ruled an arson. The State Fire Marshal office and Deerwood Police are seeking the public's help on the case. If anyone knows anything about the fire, they are asked to call the arson hotline at 1-800-723-2020 or the Deerwood Police Department at 218-534-3399. There is up to a $5,000 reward for information leading to the identification of the person or people responsible.
Bodle estimated the property loss of the garage is about $30,000 and close to $100,000 for Salem WEST.
The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office, Crosby Police Department and Crosby ambulance assisted at the fire.
Salem WEST is celebrating its 25th anniversary of serving those in need in Crow Wing County and parts of Aitkin and Cass counties. The organization works with several nonprofit groups, such as Lutheran Social Services, and helps thousands of people each year while operating on a $200,000 budget.
Greg Meyer, the Salem WEST outreach director who organizes the donation center site, watched throughout the night and early morning as firefighters extinguished the fire.
"I am just in tears," Meyer said at the Salem building while Germain investigated the fire. "This is the first time we have ever had a fire.
"What's really hard is there are a lot of people who depend on us. ... We have 28 families who are expecting deliveries in this next week and they depend on us, but now we don't have anything."
Meyer said the organization had a good stock of donated items in the center, which included clothing and household items such as dishes, silverware and bedding. They also just purchased cribs and mattresses, items that cannot be donated because of state laws.
"All of it is gone," Meyer said.
The building also houses office computers, laundry facilities and all the historic memorabilia, including photographs of past members who won awards or were instrumental to Salem WEST.
When interviewed Wednesday mid-morning, Meyer said they did not have a plan on how they would operate and accept donations. However, by afternoon, a short-term plan was set.
Meyer released the following statement: "Thank you for the outpouring of concern and support for Salem WEST, after the fire that destroyed the facility last night. The building may be gone, but our ministry will live on. The Salem WEST Bible verse that we have held close to our hearts and was painted on the wall is from 2 Corinthians 4, 'Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.' We are not going to lose heart.
"We have had many people ask, how can they help? Our first priority is to continue the supporting our families. This requires building up our inventory, as we lost everything at Salem WEST."
Donations will be received 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Fellowship Hall at Salem Lutheran Church. Items requested are clothes, bedding, pillows, dishes, pots and pans, silverware, shower curtains, towels, lamps, microwaves, coffee makers, toasters, laundry soap, dryer sheets, dish soap, diapers or any household items.
Salem WEST also needs furniture, including dressers and nightstands.
Cash donations can be sent to Deerwood Bank and placed in the Salem WEST fire fund.
People may contact Salem WEST via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 218-534-2945.
"We are overwhelmed by the love of this community," Meyer said.
Lori Hamlin, the homeowner of the detached garage, said she feels for the people of Salem WEST.
"All the stuff I lost in my garage can be replaced," Hamlin said, such as the lawn mower and snow blower. "That (pointing at Salem) will hurt a lot of people."
Hamlin said she got home about 10:45 p.m. Tuesday from work and was typing some emails when she saw something flashing outside. She got up and saw flames over her son's car parked in front of the garage. She walked outside to get a closer look, saw flames between the garage and the Salem WEST building and called 911.
Hamlin said she has lived in the Deerwood house for 25 years.
Deerwood Police Sgt. Mark Taylor, who recently was appointed interim police chief, was taping up the fire scene Wednesday morning. Taylor, who also is a firefighter, helped extinguish the fire. Taylor said they fought the fire from the outside, but once the fire got into the eaves, the edges of the roof that overhang over the wall-and with all the contents inside the building-firefighters were not able to go inside the building to extinguish the fire. They fought it from the outside.
Pastor Mike Briggs of Salem Lutheran Church said he was shocked when he heard about the fire. Briggs checked out the fire aftermath Wednesday morning.
Several people stopped or drove by Salem WEST to check out the site and to offer support for the church. One of the people was Nancy Johnson, who is a member of the Deerwood church. Johnson was in tears as she observed the Salem building. She said she just donated some items earlier this week.