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Couple escapes fire that destroys their home near Menahga

Tammy Yrjo holds her dog, Lucy, outside the rural Menahga home she shared with husband Dan destroyed by fire early Tuesday morning. (Photos by Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)1 / 5
Looking into the Dan and Tammy Yrjo home from the front door the fire damage is extensive from the living room into the kitchen areas.2 / 5
Dan Yjro holds a toy logging truck which was a toy of his father Dan had restored and was one of the many collectibles he had on display in his “man cave.”3 / 5
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With his house engulfed in flames, Dan Yrjo said he was in survival mode when he grabbed a garden hose to spray water in an attempt to knock down the flames. By then it was too late and all he and wife Tammy could do was watch their rural Menahga house burn as they waited for the fire department to arrive.

“It was the most helpless feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Dan said.

The fire started early Tuesday morning in a camper parked in the driveway, quickly spreading through the garage and into the house about seven miles southeast of Menahga in Shell River Township.

The house, garage and camper are all considered a total loss, as Dan and Tammy walk through the burned rubble trying to salvage any belongings and memories they can.

So many meaningful possessions were lost in the fire, but the couple is thankful they made it out of the house safely.

Dan and Tammy were sound asleep a little before 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 14 when a fire started in their 30-foot camper parked in front of the garage.

“My dog came to lick my face on the bed, which usually means she needs to go outside or something is wrong,” Tammy said. “I heard a big boom, probably the tires blowing out.”

She nudged Dan, but he didn’t immediately wake up.

“Ten seconds after that a big boom went off and the house shook, and that’s when he woke up,” Tammy recalls.

Tammy got up, looked out the window and saw the camper on fire. She called 911 and ran outside with their dog, Lucy. Dan moved a pickup that was in the driveway next to the camper before grabbing the garden hose. The flames had moved through the garage and to the house. Dan sprayed water on the couple’s bar room/sun room at the front of the house, but the flames spread too quickly. Dan prayed out loud for help in saving the house, but there wasn’t anything more they could do except back away from the blaze.

There wasn’t any more they could do but look on in shock in an eerie, hopeless, middle-of-the-night silence beneath the sounds of their house being destroyed.

“Probably the worst part was sitting here and watching our house burn,” Dan said.

The fire started in the camper, possibly in a propane refrigerator, spread to the garage and into the attic, travelling to the house through the ceiling and walls.

Propane tanks on the camper released, sending more flames into the garage. Tammy’s car was in the garage and when the gas tank exploded it shot debris into the air.

“All we could do was sit and wait for the fire department,” Tammy said. “By that time, the middle of the house had flames coming from it. The bar room was fully engulfed.”

The Menahga Fire Department responded with mutual aid from Sebeka and Park Rapids.

Lost is a three-bedroom, three-bathroom 1,900-square foot house. They had recently remodeled the basement. The garage was insulated, sheetrocked and heated.

Their daughter, Jessica, lives in Bemidji and got the phone call at 1:50 a.m. She arrived at 3 a.m. and the flames were gone and firefighters were still on scene.

“Most helpless feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Dan said. “You go from accepting the fact your house is on fire to hoping that they’ll be able to stop it.”

Fire reached the rafters of the sun room, or Dan’s “man cave,” where he had all kinds of valuable memorabilia, including Hamm’s collectibles and memorabilia from the band, “Boston.” He also had a football signed by Vikings great Fran Tarkenton and a signed baseball from Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew.

Cool stuff, but so much more was lost in this room.

“I had two of my dad’s toys in there. I lost five guitars and some other specialized equipment. I lost my mom’s guitar. I lost my uncle’s old accordion…stuff I’ve inherited. My mom’s been gone 18 years,” Dan said of losing so many items with sentimental value.

They did salvage some things, like Tammy’s wedding dress, her grandmother’s china set stored in the kitchen and a restored rocking chair from Dan’s grandfather. Tammy also found their bride and groom champagne glasses.

There were no injuries as a result of the fire and the house is considered to be a total loss. Foul play is not suspected, according to the sheriff’s office.

Also assisting on the call were Wadena County Sheriff’s Office, Tri-County Ambulance and the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Tammy said the camper is usually parked in another part of the yard, away from the house, but was in front of the garage because they were getting it ready for Tammy and Jessica to take on vacation next week to Yellowstone National Park.

Dan and Tammy lost their debit cards, checks, identification and other valuable personal effects. Once word got out of the fire, people started showing up Tuesday morning to help. Dan and Tammy referred to the support they’ve received from their church and friends as “overwhelming.”

As they moved things out of the house Tuesday, more people came to help. By Tuesday evening, Tammy took a crew to dinner at the West 40 Restaurant in Park Rapids. She said when the waitress learned of the tragic event, she took care of the $90 bill.

A local resort owner also called Dan and left a message saying if he needed anything to give them a call.

Pastor Steve and Jane Bruer from First English Lutheran Church in Menahga opened their home to Dan and Tammy until they can find another place to live. Along with many family and friends who have helped them this week, Dan and Tammy credit Jim and Beverlee Hallaway for being another big source of support.

“God has so blessed us with wonderful friends and family,” Tammy said. “The house stuff is just things. We’re not burying anybody, we’re not grieving the loss of somebody… it’s just things.”

Jessica added, “We can replace the things, we can’t replace anyone.”

The Yjros do have insurance and are now busy taking care of everything involved in filing a claim. They plan to rebuild, and in the meantime, will look for a rental house.

Dan owns Dan’s All Seasons Service in Park Rapids and said his employees and family are doing a great job running the business as he deals with the loss of the house.

Dan said living in their country home he never worried about a fire. It was a nice, comfortable house with all the required safety features. He was more concerned about tornados than a fire, and wants people to know something like this  really can happen to anyone.