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Donations sought so Rittgers can rebuild after house fire

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Joe and Jenny Rittgers' family after a house fire Sunday night left them without a place to call home.

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Joe and Jenny Rittgers of Nevis and their sons Bennet and Hudson will be staying at a family cabin following a fire at their home Sunday night. A GoFundMe account has been set'up for donations to help the family.
Contributed/ Jenny Rittgers.
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A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Joe and Jenny Rittgers family after a house fire Sunday night left them without a place to call home.

They had been at a family member's home watching the Super Bowl and headed home around 8:30 p.m. to get the boys ready for bed.

“When we got home, my husband opened the door and smoke came rolling out,” Jenny said.

“The hardest part was losing our cat, Tiger, and our dog, Lindy. We tried to save our dog and I got her to the Ark, but she had too extensive smoke inhalation. We can replace all kinds of things, but we sure did love our animals.”

The family stayed with Joe’s parents, Denise and Perry Rittgers of Nevis, Sunday night. “Our kids are super comfortable there and it feels like home,” she said.

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A family’s cabin will provide temporary housing going forward.

“We’re very fortunate that way,” she said.

Both Joe and Jenny grew up in the community. Joe is a graduate of Nevis High School and Jenny (formerly Gravalin) of Park Rapids Area High School. The couple has two children. Bennet, 7, is in second grade at Nevis School and Hudson, 4, attends preschool at Nevis.

Joe is a school resource/liaison officer at Park Rapids Schools and Jenny is the school nurse in Nevis.

Starting over Jenny said due to extensive smoke damage in the home they will need to replace almost everything.

“We’re starting over from scratch,“ she said.

In practical terms, that means everything from buying all the groceries needed for a family of four to replacing clothes, books and toys.

“Hudson really loves dinosaurs and Bennet loves football and basketball,” she said.

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As of Monday afternoon, almost $10,000 of the $50,000 goal for the “Help the Rittgers Rebuild” fund had been raised on the GoFundMe page.

“We have a hard time asking for help, but really appreciate it,” Jenny said Monday. “We just are really thankful that so many people have reached out already. Family, friends, the whole community. And the firefighters and first responders and law enforcement who came. And the Ark for trying to save our dog. Lots and lots of support. Right now, we’re just trying to get our life back together.”

Fire chief’s report

While the family has a Nevis address, they are in the Park Rapids fire district.

Park Rapids Fire Chief Joe Carlson said 20 personnel and five fire apparatus responded to the fire. Nevis provided mutual aid with 11 personnel and four vehicles.

The state fire marshall was on the site Monday.

“As of now, the cause is still undetermined,” Carlson said.

He said the page for the fire came in at 8:59 p.m. and they cleared the scene at 10:47 p.m.

“The ground level basement is where the fire was. We saw an orange glow in the window and sent crews in and they knocked that down pretty quickly. A couple minutes, really. It had extended into the main level as well, and they knocked that down pretty quickly, too, using a minimal amount of water, which obviously helps with the integrity of the building. In one room in the basement, the ceiling is burned and the adjacent floor above that is burned.”

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A handheld device showed where a hot spot was.

“We just got one to test it out and I think we’re probably going to get more,” Carlson said. “It shows differences in temperatures from outside the building. Instead of trying to guess where the fire is when we go in the door, we can know where it is.”

Carlson said the homeowners got the dog out before they arrived on scene.

Carlson has been trained in Basic Animal Rescue Techniques, including how to give animals oxygen.

The fire crew searched for the cat, but it was deceased when they found it.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find the cat in time,” he said.

After the fire was under control, they stayed to make sure there weren’t any flare ups.

“We ventilated to get the smoke out of the building, putting fans in the basements, made sure we had every bit of the fire out so it wouldn’t rekindle,” he said. “Then we closed up all the windows to protect the property as best as we could.”

Carlson said when the weather is cold like it was Sunday night, there are extra challenges for firefighters.

“We need to keep water flowing in the nozzles, so the hoses don’t freeze even when we’re not using them,” he said. “We also rotate our people. When they are in a hot environment fighting the fire, they get sweaty, and then once outside get cold pretty quick, so we make sure they can get in a vehicle. Everything went very smoothly, everyone acted very professionally and I was very proud of them.”

How to help

To view the GoFundMe page visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-the-rittgers-rebuild
In addition to the GoFundMe page, monetary donations for the Rittgers Rebuild Fund may also be brought to the Nevis School or to Shelly Walsh at the Park Rapids Area High School office. Gift cards to area stores to help the family with replacing clothing and other items are also welcome.

To view the GoFundMe, please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-the-rittgers-rebuild

To view the GoFundMe, please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-the-rittgers-rebuild

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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