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Pet dog saves Nevis family of six from house fire

With moments to spare, the Haegemans escape a home fire on Wednesday, Dec. 22.

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In less than 10 minutes, the fire engulfed one end of the trailer home. Devin says he wouldn't have been able to reach his boys' bedroom.
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A terrible tragedy was averted by a Nevis family’s dog, named Gracie, early Wednesday morning.

The 5-year-old mutt saved all six of the Haegemans’ lives by alerting them to a house fire.

Devin and Hannah Haegeman and their four children – Emily, 9; Maddox, 4; Daniel, 2, and Marcella, 4 months – were awoken at 5 a.m. on Dec. 22.

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In less than 10 minutes, the fire engulfed one end of the trailer home. Devin says he wouldn't have been able to reach his boys' bedroom.

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“My daughter, whose room is right next to ours, was shouting because the dog woke her up. Our bedroom door is usually open and Gracie sleeps in our room, but we shut it that night and she had all three of our kids woken up before I even knew the house was on fire,” Devin recounted.

Gracie is thought to be part Labrador and border collie. The Haegensons had fostered her for another family member, but ended up adopting her.

“Real nice thing we did,” Devin said.

They were awoken “to heavy smoke wafting through the house.”

“It was hazy in my room and it smelled nice. It smelled like warm wood, even like a campfire. I build furniture and it just smelled like warm wood sitting next to a heater,” Devin said. “And then I opened my door and I just couldn’t see. So I hollered at my wife.”

Hannah was in bed with their baby, Marcella. Emily was already in the hallway, according to Devin. Hannah ushered both daughters out of the house.

“I went to grab the boys. The youngest boy had fallen asleep in the living room. I didn’t see him, but ran into him in the living room,” Devin recalled. He put Daniel on the porch, where Hannah could reach him.

“I ran to the far end of the house where my 4-year-old was sleeping. He was also out of bed, trying to find his way,” Devin said.

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They have been renting the single-wide trailer home behind Crow Wing Inn for about a year and a half.

The Haegemans think the fire may have started in the laundry room – and spread quickly.

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Hannah Haegeman surveys the fire damage to the family's laundry home.

“After I got the kids out, I went outside and I couldn’t find the dog,” Devin said. “So I went back in to grab her, which was a bit of a struggle. She was terrified.”

Gracie was hiding under a bed, and Devin had to drag her out. He was able to carry “the furriest Haegeman” to safety.

“And then, like a dumbass, I went back in again. There was a fire extinguisher in that house. I went back in for it and I tried to fight it, then I started coughing and choking,” Devin said. He abandoned the effort.

‘It was moments’

In his mind, Devin says he keeps repeating the timeline. “At 5 o’clock, on the nose, is when my daughter says the dog woke her up. I woke up. My clock said 5:01 a.m. The 911 call says 5:02 a.m. By 5:06 a.m., I had everyone out of the house and at 5:08 a.m., as the fire department arrived, the wall that was in the laundry room fell off, and the fire flashed.”

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It wasn’t an explosion, he said, but as the wall collapsed, the back door blew out and flames started shooting out.

“It was moments. It was to the point that, as soon as that happened, less than 10 minutes after we were out of our house, I wouldn’t have been able to get to my son,” Devin said.

He wrote, “The laundry room was completely engulfed, flames shooting into the sky, and any chance of getting to the boys room was absolutely lost.”

They escaped with only a minute or two to spare.

Nevis Fire and Rescue responded to the call. They were assisted by Eastern Hubbard County Fire Department, North Memorial Health and the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office.

The fire department arrived quickly, Devin said, and they were “on point.” The family huddled in their van.

In his Facebook post, Devin wrote, “We're expecting a complete and total loss. Are we ok? No, but we are safe.”

A solid one-third of the home is cinders, completely destroyed, he estimates. “If we manage to save pictures, we’ll be lucky.”

Gracie the super hero

Devin says “a little CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning was worth saving Gracie,” adding “we can never repay what she did for us” that day.

He describes Gracie as gentle, kind and brilliant.

“I don't know who gives dogs medals for being super heros, but send them my way,” he wrote on Facebook. “She's going to need a proper visit to the groomer right away to get the soot smell out, but she's got a warm bed with her family tonight.”

The kids were taken to the hospital via ambulance to get checked out. Everyone is fine.

“Of course, I waited and drove myself. The doctor yelled at me because I’m the only one that got sick,” Devin said. He was given oxygen for a couple hours.

Rebuilding

“The house is gone, and our stuff is gone, but my home is safe and warm and perfectly intact,” Devin wrote on Facebook.

“We’ll have to start from scratch, but it could be so much worse,” he said.

While they didn’t have renter’s insurance, the couple teaches permit-to-carry classes through their business, Danger Tactical, LLP. Since the home was also the office, he expects business insurance to cover some expenses.

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This photo of Hannah and Devin Haegeman was taken in June 2020.

Due to health issues, Devin is currently on disability. He’s working with insurance to replace his destroyed medicine.

Devin served seven years in the National Guard, while Hannah remains enlisted after six years.

“We have tons of military resources that have been reaching out,” he said.

The Legion and VFW have been in touch with the family, along with MAHUBE-OTWA and the Red Cross.

The Haegemans are staying, free of charge, at the Crow Wing Inn.

By Wednesday night, the kids were in their jammies, tucked in with new blankets and new stuffed animals.

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Maddox, Devin and Emily posed for this photo in June 2020.

“Our loss is devastating, but the outpouring of love we have received over the last 17 hours is beyond what I ever expected,” Devin said on Facebook. “I spent a really long time today wondering how in the world I was going to rebuild an entire life for my family with literally nothing. Not to mention damage from trauma alone.”

When Devin was younger than Emily, his family experienced a total loss of their home and possessions through fire. With fewer resources, Devin said his parents were able to recover.

“So we’re going to make it now,” he wrote.

In the 36 hours since the fire, clothing, pull-ups and diapers have been donated. The Haegemans have received about a dozen bags of clothing in their hotel room, plus more at their in-laws. Hannah’s family is from the Nevis-Akeley area.

They need shoes and winter gear, but living space is currently limited. “Gift cards are a godsend,” Devin said.

Devin’s brother and brother’s girlfriend created a GoFundMe account for the family at https://gofund.me/e979d6b6. As of Friday, $8,705 of the $20,000 goal was raised.

The Haegemans are seeking a four- or five-bedroom house to live in.

“My daughter asked me today if she still had to clean her room,” Devin said on Thursday.

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A scene from the Haegeman's living room, following the Dec. 22 fire. This is where 2-year-old Daniel had fallen asleep.

New Christmas traditions

On Thursday, Devin wrote, “This Christmas may be less than traditional, but it's the start of something new. I promise we'll start our new traditions today, and not make a habit of yesterday's events. The kids don't have a tree, but Grandma and Grandpa do, and they're happy to share.”

Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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