Fire engulfs Cloquet homeSean Bartlett was just arriving home from his job in Superior late Monday afternoon when he discovered his house on Agate Street in Cloquet’s Sunnyside neighborhood was engulfed in smoke and emergency personnel were stationed throughout the area.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Sean Bartlett was just arriving home from his job in Superior late Monday afternoon when he discovered his house on Agate Street in Cloquet’s Sunnyside neighborhood was engulfed in smoke and emergency personnel were stationed throughout the area. He could only look on as firefighters struggled to save what was left of his family’s home and possessions.
“We’re all safe and our dogs got out, too,” said Bartlett. “The rest are just things.”
Some 30 area firefighters and support staff responded to the report of a structure fire called in at 4:38 p.m. that afternoon. Though fire crews responded within two minutes, Cloquet Area Fire District (CAFD) Chief Kevin Schroeder reported the fire had already spread through three-fourths of the house as well as the garage.
With local temperatures hovering around the 90-degree mark and high humidity adding to the toxic mix of smoke and fire, Schroeder said it quickly became apparent that the crews would need backup from other departments, though that is no longer necessary on most calls.
“The heat was just killing our guys,” said Schroeder, explaining that each firefighter wears approximately 50 pounds of protective clothing and gear and the internal temperatures inside a burning structure often reach as high as 1,000 degrees. “It was burning our people out.”
The Esko Fire Department was called in to assist with a special safety rehabilitation unit that provided cooling chairs, oxygen and staff to monitor vital signs, and the Carlton and Wrenshall departments provided extra firefighters to relieve others as the heat became too much for them.
“We quickly did some talking,” said Schroeder of the multi-agency firefighting operation, “and things all worked out like they were supposed to.”
According to Gordy Meagher, CAFD battalion chief, the fire was first detected by the wife of retired firefighter Ken Larson, who lives right next door to the burning house.
“She said she smelled smoke coming from Bartletts’ house,” related Meagher, “so she ran to the house on the corner where off-duty firefighter Dan Cyson was mowing his lawn. Dan immediately went to the burning house, forced the door open and ran downstairs to bring out the family’s two bulldogs that were in crates.”
In the meantime, Dispatch had received multiple calls about the smoke that was by then spiraling above the trees so high it could be seen from downtown Cloquet. Firefighters battled the blaze for some three hours, with personnel working in shifts of 30-45 minutes or as long as their air tanks held out. Then they would rotate out for a much-needed break, fluids and rest before heading back in.
Both the house and garage sustained extensive damage in the blaze.
“There’s not a whole lot left of it,” said Schroeder.
The fire was believed to have started at the southeast corner of the house and moved up the back wall, travelling through the eaves and across the roof. When the windows shattered, it spread into the basement and first floor of the house. The State Fire Marshall was called in Monday night to investigate a possible cause of the blaze, which is as yet unknown, but Schroeder said it was deemed to be accidental in nature.
A breeze made conditions even more dangerous, especially since houses on that block of Agate Street are fairly close together.
“We had one crew dedicated strictly to exposure prevention,” said Schroeder, though no damage to neighboring houses was later reported.
The Bartlett family lost nearly everything in the fire, and the Red Cross provided support the night of the blaze. They are reportedly staying in temporary housing.
The day following the fire, Meagher reported that fortunately no firefighters reported any significant health issues from the experience.
“The heat makes it pretty tough on them, and they are pretty worn out and feeling their age today – even though most of them are only in their 20s!” said Schroeder the day following the fire. “We’d much rather battle a fire at zero degrees than in that kind of heat.”