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Rural Todd County home burns to the ground

Fire flattened a rural Todd County home Friday.

The owners, Rich and Connie Runston, were camping near Brainerd when they got word their home northeast of Bertha was a total loss.

"There was nothing left," Rich Runston said. "The only thing we've got are the clothes we brought up for camping."

At about 11:30 a.m. Friday, the Bertha and Clarissa fire departments responded to a reported house fire near the Partridge River just west of County Road 11.

"The house was burnt completely flat by the time we got there," said Pete Wallner, Bertha fire chief.

A car near the garage and a dog running around the property led firefighters to believe someone might be inside, Wallner said.

The propane tank a few feet from the house was hissing, he said, so crews hosed it down immediately to prevent an explosion. The intense heat melted the vinyl siding on the garage and inflicted damage to the passenger's side of the vehicle.

A porcelain doll that rested upon the trunk of the Chevy Friday afternoon was the only thing firefighters were able to salvage from the house.

The cause of the fire is unknown, Wallner said.

Officials learned the Runstons' whereabouts from neighbors, then contacted the couple, who returned home to survey the scene. By Friday evening, they had returned to the campground.

"We have family and friends so we're just trying to figure out what we're going to do and where we're going to stay at," Rich Runston said.

They only had enough insurance to cover the house loan, he said, so "we'll take any help that we can get."

To donate to the couple, contact Connie Runston at (218) 414-0696.

It's the second home Connie Runston has lost to fire. Fourteen years ago, a blaze destroyed her house near Staples, she said. All occupants - and the same porcelain doll - survived that fire as well.

"I'm just thankful that nobody got hurt and hope for a better day," Connie Runston said Friday evening.

That afternoon, her granddaughter Alicia VanAlst dropped by to see the damage to the 100-year-old house, where she lived for the first 17 years of her life. It's not how she wanted to spend her 20th birthday.

"I loved (the house)," VanAlst said amid the still-smoldering ruins. "It burned so fast. It's crazy. It's sad."