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East Gull Lake family loses home to fire

The Pillager Fire Department responded to the fire, reported at 9:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, near East Gull Lake.

A burned-out house.
Drone footage shows the burned remains of a home on the 1100 block of Gull Lake Dam Road in Cass County. A fire destroyed Sterling Molby's house Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022.
Contributed / Athena Thomsen Studio 218, LLC
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EAST GULL LAKE — Upset, confused, sadness and anger were all words used to describe what a family is feeling after a fire destroyed their home Saturday, Oct. 15, on the 1100 block of Gull Lake Dam Road in Cass County.

After grilling steaks for dinner, Sterling Molby said he was relaxing in the living room while his two kids, 11-year-old Sterling Jr. and 9-year-old Ayva, were downstairs playing when he noticed something outside.

A burned-out house.
Drone footage shows the burned remains of a home on the 1100 block of Gull Lake Dam Road in Cass County. Resident Sterling Molby and his two children safely exited the home as the wind fueled the flames.
Contributed / Athena Thomsen Studio 218, LLC

“I noticed an orange glow and the outside of the deck was on fire,” Molby said. “I was trying to put it out with a blanket. It just kept spreading. So I got the kids out of the house.”

According to Pillager Fire Chief Greg Ringler, fire crews found the home engulfed in flames. The fire destroyed the home, Ringler said.

Molby said the house fire is a tough situation for his two kids.

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“I think they're just kind of confused and you know, it's the most traumatic thing that's happened to them,” Molby said.

Molby is currently staying at a hotel and his children are staying with their mother in Brainerd. “Fortunately, they have somewhere stable to go,” he said.

The Brainerd school system has stepped up to help Molby and his two children. Molby said the advice he received from Nisswa Elementary School Principal Molly Raske on what to do and how to do it has been instrumental in helping the kids.

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“Both my children have backpacks and clothes,” Molby said. “My daughter came home with two bags of clothes, new backpack, new everything, so the help has just been great.”

Molby said he has received at least 150 calls each of the past two days from friends, family and those in the community who know of his dedication to helping others.

A burned-out house.
Drone footage shows the burned remains of a home on the 1100 block of Gull Lake Dam Road in Cass County. The Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, fire was believed to be ignited by smoldering charcoal left in a grill.
Contributed / Athena Thomsen Studio 218, LLC

An Iraq war veteran, member of the VFW and a Red Cross blood drive coordinator, Molby has worked to help those around him since his time in the Army, though he said he is truly humbled by the support of those same community members.

“It's been humbling and honestly, it's been overwhelming at the same time,” Molby said. “I'm so overwhelmed with the amount of people that have reached out, whether by text message or Facebook or to see what we need, and I've been so out of it with just my own personal grief and I'm just been so overwhelmed with the amount of support.”

Molby said the support is overwhelming but the reality of the situation has yet to set in, though.

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“There was nothing in that house that we can't replace. Me and my kids got out. That's what's important,” he said.

The Pillager Fire Department responded to the fire, reported at 9:15 p.m. near East Gull Lake.

Ringler said the fire started on the deck where the family cooked with a grill almost three hours earlier. He suspected smoldering coals and strong winds started the fire. The wind that night also helped feed the flames as the home succumbed.

The family reached out to the Red Cross for assistance, Ringler said. No injuries were reported.

Ringler reminded people to make sure a grill is entirely out when done using it and to move it away from the residence when not in use.

Fourteen Pillager firefighters were on scene for about four hours putting out the fire. The Brainerd Fire Department provided mutual aid with about 10 firefighters and a water truck, said Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes.

Assisting at the scene were North Memorial Health Ambulance, Xcel Energy and Runestone Electric Association.

A fundraising campaign set up for Molby and his family can be found at bit.ly/3s3xnW1 .

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Related Topics: FIRESEAST GULL LAKE
Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2021, covering Public Safety.
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