HOWARD LAKE, Minn. – A quick-moving fire that spread from multiple homes to a historic church west of the Twin Cities is now bringing a community together to support one another.
Richard Block's 7-year-old son alerted his dad to the fire just in time.
"My youngest son was outside playing. He came in and said that something was wrong," Block said. "We went outside and right when we got to the back door we noticed that the shed and the tree were fully engulfed in flames."
Block was able to get his kids, girlfriend, and all their pets out safely before the fire made its way to their home – burning nearly everything inside.
"Went super fast. Never quite seen anything go so quick," he said.
The large trees near the homes acted as kindling, causing the fire to spread to a neighboring home. That owner, Kayla Volk, wasn't there at the time.
"We broke into her front door, with her permission, and then proceeded to get her dogs out of the house," Block said.
Volk had only moved into the home 19 days earlier. Her boxes weren't even unpacked when her dream of homeownership went up in flames.
"My bedroom was the top one. That one's gone. It's got a nice sunroof though," Volk said.
She had saved up for years, working multiple jobs and hundred-hour work weeks to buy a home of her own.
"I've cried a lot. I just look at it as like it could've been worse," Volk said. "Nobody got hurt, everyone got out."
Besides damaging two homes, flames also jumped across the tree tops and torched the top of the historic, 120-year-old steeple of St. James Lutheran Church. Pastor Mark Loder lives right next door. His home was practically unscathed.
"As much as I appreciate the concern for the damage that we have, my concern is for two families that have lost their homes," Loder said. "Then I said, 'OK, how can we begin to help?'"
The community offered prayers and donations during a service Monday evening, where strangers became neighbors.
"The community has really helped out with food and the shoes that I'm wearing. You know, they helped watch our dogs while we were dealing with the fire that was going on," Block said. "Everybody's been really supportive."
St. James is closed for now as they fix the damage to the steeple and inside the church. But outside, they hosted a clothing and toy drive Monday night for the displaced families.
"All these strangers giving me hugs, giving me advice," Volk said.
It all has reassured Volk that Howard Lake is a place she'll still call home.
"I know I'm not leaving this community," she said. "We'll figure it out."
The exact cause of the fire is still under investigation.
If you're in the Howard Lake area and you're planning to donate, they're looking for these clothing sizes: Child (age 7), early teens (boy and girl), adult (XL male and XXL female).
Both families with damaged homes have online fundraisers if you would like to donate.
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