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Overnight fire destroys rural Wadena home

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A rural Wadena family is without a home after an early morning fire ripped through their house five miles north on Highway 75 Thursday.

“I think the shock has finally hit me - to watch your whole life just burn and not be able to do anything,” said homeowner Misty Gustafson, who, along with her husband, Dan, was in the house when the fire broke out sometime around 2 a.m.

Gustafson says the couple had fallen asleep downstairs watching a movie when Dan woke up and tried to turn on the light.

“But the lightbulb popped when he tried to turn it on, so he woke me up to see where we had extra lightbulbs,” said Gustafson, who had no idea there was a fire burning up in their attic. She says she saw smoke outside the window, but thought at the time that it was steam caused by humidity in the air following a thunderstorm earlier Wednesday evening. In fact, she says right now fire investigators are looking at the possibility that lightening or an electrical current from the storm could be the cause.

“So then we’re sitting there, and we start to hear this popping noise, like a popcorn popper or something,” said Gustafson, who says her husband went to go check it out. “He said, ‘Misty, come here, is that smoke?’, and then we looked and the paint was bubbling and we started seeing flames and sparks starting to drop down from the door of the attic.”

The couple then scooped up their dogs and got out of the house, Dan grabbing a few family photos while they called 9-1-1. Gustafson says it took only 12 minutes for the Bluffton Fire Department to arrive in the middle of the night, but she says those 12 minutes felt like an eternity.

And during those 12 minutes, as they stood there and watched, Gustafson says the fire went from not being visible from outside to flames raging up as high as the trees. It went that fast.

“I couldn’t even believe it - everything gone,” she said, adding that while they haven’t been allowed to get back into the house yet as of Thursday evening, they’ve been told that the house is totalled. It was a house that they’ve owned for nearly three that for months they had been working on, painting and “making it theirs” with personal touches and hard work.  

“Now we’ve literally got only the shirts on our backs,” said Gustafson, adding that her grandmother went out and bought them some clean t-shirts and toiletries, and the Red Cross was out to provide breakfast and other little essentials. Family from both sides are there to help, she says.

And while the Gustafsons are now admittedly “walking around in a fog”, trying to absorb what has just happened and feeling “lost”, they know their story could have been much, much worse.

“We keep telling each other that everything in that house can be replaced - we can’t be,” said Gustafson, who says none of their five children were in the house, and that was something she says the couple is incredibly grateful for.

“We’ve got friends and family,” she said, “and we’re going to take this one minute at a time.”

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes, Perham and Wadena, all in Minnesota.

(218) 844-1466