ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Pequot Lakes couple recovers from devastating house fire: 'Something I'll never forget'

Renee Hines and Jeffrey King were accustomed to dealing with frozen water pipes at the Pequot Lakes home where they lived for a decade. After more than a week of subzero temperatures, the morning of Sunday, Jan. 17, called for reinforcements from...

Renee Hines surveys the damage to her home in Pequot Lakes, a day after fire destroyed it Jan. 17. The fire was started by a portable gas heater Hines and her boyfriend, Jeffrey King, were using to heat frozen pipes on the subzero day. Submitted photo
Renee Hines surveys the damage to her home in Pequot Lakes, a day after fire destroyed it Jan. 17. The fire was started by a portable gas heater Hines and her boyfriend, Jeffrey King, were using to heat frozen pipes on the subzero day. Submitted photo

Renee Hines and Jeffrey King were accustomed to dealing with frozen water pipes at the Pequot Lakes home where they lived for a decade.

After more than a week of subzero temperatures, the morning of Sunday, Jan. 17, called for reinforcements from a portable gas heater to help waterflow in the trailer home they rented. The heater instead caused a fire destroying the home on the 31000 block of Honeysuckle Street that day. The fire left Hines, 56, and King, 51, with nothing but the clothing they wore and the family dog, Pookie, who also managed to escape the flames.

"It was very heartbreaking," Hines said. "When you stand there and there ain't nothing you can do, and your stuff is burning up-it's something I'll never forget."

King awoke before his girlfriend of 28 years and started the heater that morning. Hines was in bed with Pookie, an 11-year-old Chihuahua-terrier mix, and one of two family cats. She heard the heater turn off, she said, and soon after, the smoke detectors began to sound.

"I could see smoke rolling from the ceiling coming down the hall," Hines said.

ADVERTISEMENT

She leaped from bed and ran into the kitchen, where she saw flames behind the washer and dryer. Hines said she returned to the bedroom to quickly put on pajama pants and slippers and to grab her cellphone before running outside into the frigid weather. She called 911 and then realized the pets were still inside.

"I was not in my right mind," Hines said. "I was scared, and everything was happening so fast."

King went to the garage and found a crowbar, prying open a door the couple had winterized.

"One of the cats came right away. He was bleeding from the nose and mouth. But the dog, we were calling and calling and he didn't come. The fire was raging by then, and I just thought I'd lost him," Hines said.

A short time later, King came around the corner of the house holding Pookie, who seemed to have escaped when Hines left the home to call 911. Pookie was coughing from inhaling smoke, but was not burned.

Remaining inside were Charlie, a 7-month-old kitten, and a Pacu fish named Paco the couple had for more than 11 years. Firefighters later told Hines they thought they saw a flash of white leaving the home when they tore into the bedroom wall, and Hines is hopeful it was Charlie.

Hines placed a lost cat advertisement in the Brainerd Dispatch and has been knocking on doors of neighbors and businesses, but so far has not located Charlie, who is mostly white with black spots.

The other cat, Rabbit, hid under the deck from firefighters and Hines, and she could not get to him before they left the home, she said. She left food outside for him, but more than a week later, the large white and gray cat remains missing as well.

ADVERTISEMENT

Hines was uninjured, but King suffered burns to his wrist and fingers while trying to extinguish the fire beneath the trailer. As the fire still raged, neighbors immediately began offering clothing to the family and a warm place for firefighters to recharge while battling the blaze.

"They came out from all over," Hines said. "People started coming with coats. I needed socks, I needed boots. They were all bringing that stuff to me."

The only items recovered from the badly burned home were some photo albums from the bedroom closet and Hines' purse, which, although melted to a pair of boots and encapsulated in ice from the hose spray, protected her photo ID and social security card from the flames.

"I've lost all my memories from my kids and my dad who's passed away, all of his stuff was in there," Hines said. "My mom writes poems and I had a scrapbook of all that stuff, and stuff that she had made me, ceramic stuff, I lost that. Pictures of my grandkids and kids. So it's been really hard."

Since the fire, the outpouring of support has continued with many people dropping off donations for the family at the Pequot Lakes City Hall. The city is storing the extra donated clothes and housewares for the couple until they move into a new home.

Hines and her daughter, Tiffany Madison, expressed gratitude for the assistance offered by the community. In addition to the clothing donations, veterinary care for Pookie, who suffered from smoke inhalation, was provided at no cost by the Country Doc Veterinary Clinic in Pine River.

"It's all pro bono stuff that people want to help with," Madison said. "There's people waiting for phone calls to see how else they can help."

The fire is not the only hardship Hines and King have faced recently. Hines was diagnosed with lung cancer last summer and underwent surgery to remove a tumor. Neither has a job-King is disabled with a traumatic brain injury and Hines cares for him. The couple also did not have renters insurance, so none of the losses from the fire are covered.

ADVERTISEMENT

Two fundraising benefits, one in Brainerd and one in Pequot Lakes, are planned next month to help the pair recover from the fire. There is also a fundraising page set up at www.gofundme.com/jeffandrenee and a fund at American National Bank in Pequot Lakes-the Jeff King Fire Benefit. Madison is collecting donations for a silent auction, and Pequot Lakes City Hall is still accepting donated items for the couple.

For now, Hines and King continue to stay at the AmericInn Lodge and Suites in Pequot Lakes, where they are utilizing free passes received from family friends along with funds from both their landlord and the American Red Cross. This will keep them housed at the hotel through Feb. 3, although Hines said she hopes they have found a new place to live by then. She and King are looking for a place that fits their needs and would like to stay in Pequot Lakes.

"The good Lord has been good so far, and the community and everybody," Hines said. "We're so thankful to everyone. God bless their hearts."

How to help

• Visit www.gofundme.com/jeffandrenee to make a donation.

• Donate to the fund set up at American National Bank, 31279 Brunes St., Pequot Lakes. Checks can be made to the "Jeff King Fire Benefit."

• Drop off clothing and household items at the Pequot Lakes City Hall, 4638 County Road 11. City hall is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

• Attend a spaghetti dinner fundraiser planned for 4-7 p.m., Feb. 20, at The Center, 803 Kingwood St., Brainerd. The meal will be $6 per plate.

• Attend a benefit Feb. 27 at the Pequot Lakes American Legion Post No. 49, 4435 Main St. The time is to be determined. The event will include a silent auction.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
What To Read Next
Inmates in-custody in the Todd County jail in Long Prairie, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Wadena County jail in Wadena, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Aitkin County jail in Aitkin, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Beltrami County jail in Bemidji, Minnesota