Fire damages home of newly married Brainerd couple during honeymoon
BRAINERD — While away celebrating their recent marriage, a phone call informed Julie Meszaros and husband Raymond Shimek of the fire that left their southeast Brainerd home uninhabitable and took the life of a family dog.
The couple married Saturday, Jan. 8, at the VFW in Garrison before heading to Hudson, Wisconsin, for their honeymoon — a happy occasion interrupted by loss. They expressed relief Tuesday that Meszaros’ son Keegan, in the home at the time of the Monday night fire, exited safely along with Shimek’s 7-year-old pitbull/Labrador/boxer mix named Cindy. But Duke, a 10-year-old border collie/husky who was Keegan’s constant companion, did not.
“He got lost in the smoke and passed away,” Shimek said. “He was a very good boy.”
The Brainerd Fire Department responded to the blaze shortly before 8 p.m. Monday on the 700 block of Southeast 19th Street, finding black smoke billowing out the front and sides of the home originally built in 1906.
In a subzero wind chill, 26 firefighters worked to contain the flames over the course of two and a half hours. The structure was saved, but the fire left extensive damage to the first-floor kitchen and living room along with smoke and heat damage throughout the first floor and into the second. Some water damage occurred as well.
Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes said the fire originated in the kitchen due to unattended cooking, but it remained unclear Tuesday whether the food inside the air fryer caught fire or if the appliance itself sparked the flames.
Meszaros said they sometimes experienced short circuits in the kitchen causing the breaker to pop. In this instance, she said, it appeared the breaker failed to prevent the wires from becoming dangerously hot.
“The breaker didn’t pop, and we don’t know why that happened,” she said. “It’s happened before, where we’ve popped the breaker, and there was no problem.”
Meszaros, 49, spent her teenage years in the turn-of-the-century house before moving back in 2006 to care for her mother after a cancer diagnosis. She inherited the property upon her mother’s death, and it was set to be where she and her new husband would build their married lives together, along with 22-year-old Keegan.
Now, the couple is faced with the decision of whether to repair the fire damage and complete renovations or find somewhere else to live. Holmes said the American Red Cross was contacted to assist the family in the meantime.
“We talked to the fire chief and the structure is really good, and it’s rebuildable. We’ve been thinking of remodeling,” Shimek said. “At the same time, there’s live wiring in there so we kind of can’t turn the power back on right now. … We need to get in touch with the Red Cross to see if they can get us a hotel for a couple of weeks — we’re going to see if we can find a hotel room that’s pet friendly.”
Making matters more challenging for the family is a lack of homeowner’s insurance, which Shimek said they could not afford.
“What we’ve got in our pockets is what we have right now,” Shimek said.
Jake Kelm, a friend of the family, organized a GoFundMe fundraiser at bit.ly/3zNhXbD , and Shimek said a coworker at Crow Wing Recycling — where he’s worked for nearly eight years — was already pooling together donations and planning a benefit.
“They have lost almost everything, including clothes, family photos and food, in the result of the fire two days after (they) were wed,” Kelm wrote in the GoFundMe description. “Any and all donations are appreciated and needed at this time.”
How to helpA GoFundMe fundraiser is set up to assist the Meszaros/Shimek family. Visit bit.ly/3zNhXbD to donate.