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Suspicious fire: Officials investigate duplex fire in NE Brainerd

The Minnesota State Fire Marshal's Office and the Brainerd Fire Department are investigating a suspicious fire at a two-apartment duplex Tuesday afternoon in northeast Brainerd.

Brainerd firefighters extinguish a fire Tuesday afternoon at a two-apartment duplex on the 100 block of Gillis Avenue in northeast Brainerd. The fire has been ruled suspicious. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch Video and Gallery
Brainerd firefighters extinguish a fire Tuesday afternoon at a two-apartment duplex on the 100 block of Gillis Avenue in northeast Brainerd. The fire has been ruled suspicious. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch Video and Gallery
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The Minnesota State Fire Marshal's Office and the Brainerd Fire Department are investigating a suspicious fire at a two-apartment duplex Tuesday afternoon in northeast Brainerd.

Brainerd fire was called to the structure fire at 3 p.m. on the 100 block of Gillis Avenue. Firefighters, police officers and medical personnel filled the street quickly, as black and grey smoke billowed through the windows. Several neighbors watched the emergency response from across the street, which is about a block off Washington Street in northeast Brainerd. Brainerd fire called Nisswa and Deerwood firefighters for mutual aid.

Ron Crawford and his daughter were sitting on the corner of Gillis Avenue and B Street waiting for her children to get off the school bus when they saw one of the occupants running out of the house.

"We saw a girl, who lives downstairs, running out of the house yelling 'Call 911,'" Crawford said. "First I thought there was a fight going on or something, but then I saw smoke pouring out. My daughter called (911) the first time and I called the second time. The girl said a guy who went by said 'Bye B,' and left, took off running. Shortly after he left, the place was all smoke. We called the firefighters to let them know where the fire was and at that time things were popping out of the windows. It was going up fast. ... Whatever started the fire, it went. It engulfed the house pretty good.

"Luckily no one was in the house, I'm glad no one was in the place. That is one thankful thing, no one was hurt. Houses can be replaced, people can't."

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One of the occupants of the apartment, who asked not to be named, said she lives in the upstairs apartment with two other adults and one adult male lives in the lower apartment. All the occupants were able to get out of the house safely.

The woman said everything she owned was in the house and she couldn't believe it was now gone.

Nicolle Uban and Shari Olson were concerned about the fire, as they were working at the Luna Women's Wellness and Birth Center, which is located next door to the house on fire. They were in their offices when they heard some yelling and a bunch of commotion, which made them look outside.

"We saw the smoke pouring out the upstairs window and Shari grabbed her phone to call 911 and I grabbed the fire extinguisher because I apparently thought I could put out a house fire," Uban said. "Then we went running outside and saw the one neighbor outside and she said everyone was out of the house.

"We grabbed our computers as our building was getting smoky and we moved our vehicles."

Tom Olson was one of several Mr. Tire employees who were watching the fire. Olson said they heard the sirens from the fire trucks, police cars and ambulances and, when they looked outside, they noticed all the smoke coming from the house down the block.

Tom Sampson of Tom's TV in northeast Brainerd also watched as firefighters worked to extinguish the fire.

"It looked like it was hazy outside so I went to look outside, thought maybe it was raining," Sampson said. "I then saw all the smoke. I didn't know what was going on so I came to check it out."

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According to the Crow Wing County detailed tax parcel report, the taxpayer name on the property is Erling Nedberg of Florida. The occupants were renting the apartment duplex. The estimated building value is $34,400.

The Brainerd Police Department and North Memorial Ambulance assisted on the scene.

Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes said the fire is under investigation and the fire caused significant damage to the home.

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