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Breezy Point couple loses home to fire, is grateful for survival - Police officer happened upon fire by chance

An early morning fire destroyed Bill and Cynthia Rasmussen’s house on County Road 11 in Breezy Point Sunday, Dec. 31. The fire started where the stove pipe went through the roof. Submitted Photo1 / 3
Breezy Point couple Bill and Cynthia Rasmussen lost all of their belongings when their house burned down Sunday, Dec. 31. Submitted Photo2 / 3
Breezy Point couple Bill and Cynthia Rasmussen lost all of their belongings when their house burned down Sunday, Dec. 31. Submitted Photo 3 / 3

Bill and Cynthia Rasmussen are grateful to be alive today.

The Breezy Point couple lost their home to a fire early Sunday, Dec. 31. The two were sleeping while the fire burned their roof, not triggering the smoke alarms. But thanks to a stroke of luck, the Rasmussens got out safely.

"As I was driving relatively slow down (County Road) 11 toward Breezy from the Halvorson Bay access, I saw some smoke that was going across the road," Breezy Point police officer Jason Rieber said. "I thought, 'You know, let's take a look' and pulled up into the driveway and saw the flames going through the roof."

Rieber was on his way home around 2 a.m. after a long shift when he happened upon the fire. Though he found both entrances to the house locked, that didn't stop him from getting to the Rasmussens.

"The police officer just kicked in the door," Cynthia said, "and came in with a spotlight and said, 'Your house is on fire. We're going to have to get you two out of here.'"

Shortly after calling for backup, Rieber was joined by Breezy Point police officer Jay Lorch and Minnesota State Patrol trooper Nick Diederich, who had also been on his way home for the night. Together, the three of them got the Rasmussens out of their burning house and into a warm squad car, as the temperature was in the double digits below zero and Cynthia only had on a jacket and shorts.

"In the middle of the night when you wake up from a dead sleep, you don't really know where anything is," Cynthia said. "I didn't have any shoes or pants, and so I just had the jacket on and the shorts that I was wearing for pajamas. And (an officer) said, 'Don't worry. We'll just pick you up.' So two officers carried me."

Before leaving the scene, Bill had one request.

"My husband, he raises canaries," Cynthia said. "So there were seven birds (inside) and before he went out the door, he said, 'My birds. I've got to get my birds.'"

Lorch and Crosslake police officer Jake Maier - who arrived on scene later - went back in for Bill's canaries.

The Rasmussen's house wasn't as lucky as its occupants.

"The walls are still up, but there's about a foot of ash," Cynthia said. "The insulation was what was burning and igniting all through the house. ... We lost everything."

Pequot Lakes Fire Chief Tom Nelson said his firefighters were hoping to save as much of the house as possible, but the structure made that difficult.

"The problem we faced was that it had been remodeled a few times, and there was different layers of ceiling materials. So it was kind of difficult for our firefighters to get into that attic space and get the fire extinguished," Nelson said.

The bitter cold didn't help much either, though Nelson's crew knew what it had to do to keep warm.

"We made sure we had enough guys rotating," Nelson said. "Then we put them in a warm vehicle to keep them from freezing."

Nelson said the fire started where the stove pipe from the wood stove went through the roof.

Police officers took the Rasmussens to Bill's sister's house down the road - where they're currently living - while the firefighters battled the flames. About three hours later, the fire was out.

Rieber cites good teamwork for the success of getting everyone to safety.

"Everything is a team effort. There was three of us that went in and got them all out," Rieber said. "(Diederich) should have been home in bed, and he came back around when he heard me call for help. ... We have a great teamwork environment here."

Though, Rieber admits the situation was somewhat unusual.

"We get paged out to that stuff all the time, but I've been with Breezy Point for 10 years, and I've never come across a structure that hadn't been called in before, especially an occupied structure," he said. "But it was a low-risk assessment going in. There wasn't a lot of smoke or even any smoke inside the residence yet. ... We got really lucky, and I'm thankful for that."

So are the Rasmussens.

"The police officer that saw the fire and carried me out, he has gotten me out of ditches before, and he knows that I'm handicapped, so he was very attentive. Thank God for that," Cynthia said. "It was a miracle that they saw us - they saw the fire and got us out of there. Because if they hadn't gotten us out, we would be dead right now."

Cynthia said she and Bill plan to rebuild on the same property with help from her brother-in-law, who is a contractor. A GoFundMe page to help the Rasmussens is set up at https://www.gofundme.com/help-bill-and-cynthia-rassmussen.

Area fires

The Brainerd Dispatch reported that the Rasmussen's house was one of three that caught fire in the Pequot Lakes/Breezy Point area in the last three weeks.

The first fire was Friday, Dec. 22, on the 7100 block of 17th Avenue Southwest in Loon Lake Township, and the second was Friday, Dec. 29, on the 31000 block of Robinhood Lane, northwest of Breezy Point. According to the Brainerd Dispatch, an outdoor wood stove may have caused the first fire, but the second is still under investigation. The Pequot Lakes Fire Department responded to all three calls.

Nelson said an influx in fires is fairly common when temperatures drop as low as they had been.

"Sometimes they come up in the real cold because stoves get fed a little hotter, more wood, trying to the keep the house warm," he said. "And sometimes the protective measures that surround the stove pipes or the stoves, they just end up getting so hot that things start catching on fire."

To prevent these types of fires, Nelson advises homeowners with wood stoves to get their stoves inspected to make sure they're in proper working order. Space heaters, he said, can be another fire risk this time of year. Nelson said space heaters should not be placed near anything combustible and should have the open space around them that the manufacturer requires so that if they tip over, nothing will catch on fire.

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