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Family survives Wadena house fire

FIrefighers work to extinguish a house fire at the southern edge of Wadena Saturday morning. Three residents and their pets escaped unharmed, but the Wadena fire chief Dean Uselman called the structure "a total loss."

By Bryce Haugen / Wadena Pioneer Journal

ingle father and his two teenage children escaped a fire that destroyed their home along Highway 71 on the southern edge of Wadena Saturday morning.

Jim Carter, 36, said he discovered the blaze behind a wall in his kitchen shortly after waking up to a popping sound. After failing to put it out himself, he called 911 at about 9:30 a.m.

“I told both of my kids, just throw something on and let’s get out of the house,” Carter said in a phone interview Saturday evening.

Wadena firefighters arrived at the three-bedroom rental property within minutes and a crew of approximately 30 men, including members of the Verndale and Bluffton fire departments, were able to extinguish the main inferno by 12:30 p.m. A smaller crew stamped out spot fires over the next two hours.

“It’s pretty much a total loss,” Wadena fire chief Dean Uselman said.

Now Carter is scrambling to find a place for he and his two children - 16-year-old Spencer and 15-year-old Kissryn - to live.

“I don’t know where to go. I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I’m just in a spiral motion right now.”

For now, the family is staying with friends.

“It’s a little crowded but we’ll make it work,” Carter said.

Since he works in New York Mills and his kids attend school in the area, Carter said he’s looking to find another local rental property - preferably a three-bedroom that allows pets - as soon as possible.

Uselman said the department will investigate the cause of the incident.

“Everything we’re seeing would be consistent with an accidental fire,” he said.

Carter said it almost certainly was an electrical fire, since it started behind a wall.

Temperatures Saturday morning were in the single digits below zero, which caused some of the firefighters’ respirators to freeze up. That’s one of the reasons Uselman asked for the Bluffton department to join the Wadena and Verndale crews, he said.   

As smoke continued to swirl out of the house just after noon, one of Carter’s friends dropped by to see if the Xbox he left there survived the conflagration.

Uselman found the device seemingly intact and confirmed ownership during a phone call to Carter. Near the end of the call, he offered an update.

“There’s some things you can get out of here, but it’s a mess,” Uselman said. “That’s all there is to it.”

Carter said he’ll be able to recover his washer and dryer, TV and much of what was in the living room, but the blaze gutted the kitchen and bedrooms.

“I’m starting all over again,” he said.

A couple who drove by the fire Saturday morning stopped to offer the family twin bunk beds.

“God bless their hearts,” Carter said.

Anyone interested in helping the family replace lost items can contact Carter’s parents at 129 Park Circle, Ottertail, Minn., 56571.

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