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Fire causes extensive damage

Homeowner Reenie Hensel uses her cell phone to call friends and relatives after arriving at the scene of a house fire. Her home was extensively damaged. State Patrol officer Dion Pederson speaks to her. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)1 / 2
Smoke bellows out the back door of a Park Rapids home early Tuesday morning. The interior of the home, at 806 South St., was extensively damaged. The fire is believed to have started in the kitchen, but until an investigation has been completed, the cause of the blaze is unknown. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

Ginny Christianson was on her way to work early Tuesday when she passed by her neighbor's house. She smelled a strong odor of burning wood. Trouble was, Reenie Hensel didn't have a wood stove. It was just after 6 a.m. Reenie's home was on fire.

"I panicked," Ginny said. "I drove all the way to Terry's house to dial 911." Terry Collette, Ginny's co-worker, lives downtown in Park Rapids.

Within minutes of the 911 call, placed simultaneously by Ginny and another neighbor, fire crews were on the scene. Smoke was billowing out the roof, pouring through the doorways opened to allow firefighters access to the main floor.

The fire, extinguished in minutes, caused extensive damage to the home on 806 South St. in Park Rapids. The neighborhood sits several blocks south of the new Ace Hardware Store on Highway 34.

Reenie arrived on the scene to find nearly two-dozen firefighters, cops and other first responders in her yard.

"I'm in total shock," she said, staring wide eyed at the home she's owned for 10 years, fighting tears.

Firefighters told her they believe the blaze started in the kitchen, but they won't know until they get a better look inside.

Their quick response likely saved the home from burning to the ground. Within five minutes, three engine trucks, a fleet of smaller vehicles and a dozen firefighters had converged on the scene. They donned gas masks and rushed through the back door of the home, fighting thick clouds of smoke.

Reenie's neighbors came over to console her. Most were getting dressed for work. It wasn't even 7 a.m. yet.

Barb Barth, who lives across the street, offered a hug, her home for the night and warm clothes.

Scott Mercer, who lives down the street, was on the scene early on. He'd been paged. He's a firefighter.

"I heard the address and knew it was your house," he told Reenie. "I knew you were at work and didn't know how to get a hold of you," he apologized. "Is there anything I can do?"

Reenie thanked him and said she'd be fine. She'd left for her job at Wal-Mart, where she starts at 5 a.m.

One of the neighbors called her to report her house was burning.

Firefighters returned to the scene two hours later to put out some smoldering embers.

Ginny and Terry, who have a cleaning service, gave Reenie a hug.

"Your kitchen's a mess," Ginny said, trying to lighten up the moment. "You need to do your dishes."

"I just did them yesterday," Reenie said. Through the window, the dishes, sitting in the sink, were a charred mass.