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Pequot Lakes: Heritage House fire intentionally set

Pequot Lakes Fire Chief Tom Nelson (right) and his daughter, Mackenzie Nelson, walk near a residential unit at Heritage House of Pequot Lakes Thursday, June 8. Tom Nelson confirmed Friday, June 10, a fire is under investigation as an arson. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch

Officials determined the fire forcing the evacuation of more than 30 assisted living residents Thursday night, June 8, in Pequot Lakes was arson.

Pequot Lakes Fire Chief Tom Nelson said Friday, June 9, evidence showed the Thursday night fire at Heritage House of Pequot Lakes was intentionally set. No arrests were made by midday Friday as the Minnesota State Fire Marshal's Office conducted interviews. Nelson declined to confirm whether anyone besides staff members or residents were determined to be on the property at the time.

The fire was reported at 7:40 p.m. Thursday in the Lower Lodge residence of the assisted living facility at 5384 Country Care Lane. Despite a hectic scene of people in nursing scrubs, elderly residents with walkers and wheelchairs and emergency responders of all stripes, everyone was reported safe as the fire was quickly contained.

Thirty firefighters from the Pequot Lakes and Nisswa fire departments arrived to fight the fire, which Nelson said was contained to one room and was knocked down in 20 minutes. An estimate on the cost of the damage was unavailable Friday afternoon.

Nelson said residents of Lower Lodge were not returned to their rooms Thursday night. He said a strong odor of smoke permeated the building and, given the nature of the residents, some of whom are reliant on oxygen, officials determined it best to find alternate housing.

"We did not let them occupy that building last night," Nelson said Friday. "Between the other buildings that the Heritage House has, they were able to find enough beds for the people that were displaced."

Nelson said he was pleased with the evacuation efforts of the Heritage House staff members, and noted police officers from Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point and Nisswa assisted.

"The staff did very well in getting the residents out," Nelson said. "A lot of them are in wheelchairs and not the most mobile people."

North Memorial Ambulance personnel were on scene as a precaution and to assist with any possible transfers of medically fragile residents.

Heritage House administrator Matt Pallansch, chief operating officer of ElderCare of Minnesota, echoed Nelson's praise of the staff.

"I want to thank all of our staff at Heritage House of Pequot Lakes for everything they did to support the safety and well being of our residents last evening," Pallansch said. "We were able to quickly accommodate each resident to another building on our campus while we worked to get things cleaned up."

Heritage House of Pequot Lakes is located on a 20-acre campus with five residential units serving the needs of the aging population. Those needs range from independent individuals to those completely dependent, the company's website stated.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her Bachelor's degree in professional journalism from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Perkins has interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before joining the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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