Fire chief: Church, condo fires likely started outside
Wednesday, May 23, brought with it a pair of ruinous fires to the Brainerd lakes area--an afternoon blaze reducing much of the Faith Assembly of God Church in Pine River to cinders; another within the gates of Breezy Point Resort engulfing a priv...
Wednesday, May 23, brought with it a pair of ruinous fires to the Brainerd lakes area-an afternoon blaze reducing much of the Faith Assembly of God Church in Pine River to cinders; another within the gates of Breezy Point Resort engulfing a private condo building late in the night.
Both fires may have been caused by sources external to the buildings, Pequot Lakes Fire Chief Tom Nelson said. Nelson and his firefighters answered calls for both fires.
Faith Assembly of God Church fire
During the course of the fire, the sanctuary-an addition built about 1980-caved in and collapsed, leaving little more than charred, skeletal frames behind. The older portions of the church just off Highway 371, including the office, seemed to fare better. They were built somewhere in the late 1950s to early 1960s.
Thursday afternoon, Nelson said during a phone interview the running assessment by the Minnesota State Fire Marshal's Office at that time was the fire came from an external source-a bush next to the church building that ignited, possibly from a cigarette butt and coaxed by hot, low-humidity conditions.
"As the bush caught on fire it went up into the soffit of the building and in turn got into the attic and that's how it spread so quickly," Nelson said. "From everything they determined, it looked like it started on the outside."
Nelson said this is the theory officials are "leaning toward," though he noted it may change as more information comes to light.
Lakeside Loft fire
The Lakeside Loft fire at Breezy Point is believed to have originated from a point beneath the stairs leading into the front of the private condominium, Nelson said-an assessment of the site, he noted, currently considered the most plausible explanation by the fire marshal's office.
According to the police scanner, the fire was reported about 9:40 p.m. Wednesday, and was described as a "fully involved" structure fire.
As spectators watched, an SUV parked in front of the building burst into flames as well, and soon thereafter, officials evacuated the area, citing open flowing gas lines near the site.
During a phone call Thursday afternoon, Breezy Point Police Chief Kevin Merschman said the fire ultimately gutted the Lakeside Loft and damaged a neighboring property-both of which, he said, are rental properties. No one was injured in the blaze and the occupiers of both buildings at the time had limited personal belongings lost in the fire.
The building materials of the Lakeside Loft, coupled with dry, low-humidity conditions in the area of late created perfect conditions for a hot and fast moving fire that ate through the mezzanine, damaged the neighboring condo and decimated two vehicles parked out front, Nelson said.
"Looking at the construction of the loft-it has cedar shakes on the front and a wood deck. The fact we haven't any significant moisture this spring, all that wood on that house is just primed for spreading fire," Nelson said. "As that fire got going, as soon as those cedar (shakes) caught fully involved, just the radiant heat off that building is probably what got the Jeep."