Fire close to home for on-scene reporter [UPDATED]Published 3:48am Monday, July 15, 2013 Updated 5:53am Monday, July 15, 2013
Reporters are always driven to get as close to the action as possible, and my life couldn’t have been closer to the big story Sunday night.
I’m no longer a reporter, but I didn’t hesitate for a second to jump back into my old shoes when I pulled into my downtown parking lot at about midnight Monday morning. Actually I didn’t even take the time to slip my shoes on before running out of my car to shoot photos and jot down notes.
I had just returned from a nice, long five-day vacation for the Fourth of July, and I was ready to hit the pillow hard after a drive back from Virginia, Minn. Instead I found myself running around shoeless shooting photos with my iPhone and interviewing everyone who would talk while writing on an old scrap manilla folder I found in the back seat of my car.
I can remember feeling the heat from the fire even in my parking lot at Court and Cavour. I had never been that close to a major fire, and the sight was incredible. The entire 200 block of Lincoln Avenue was packed with firefighters and emergency personnel. Fire trucks and emergency vehicles from neighboring communities lined Union Avenue past Cafe 116. The downtown drainage system couldn’t even keep up with the water being pumped from the hoses, and streams ran almost to Service Food.
It wasn’t for about a half hour that I was told I wouldn’t be able to stay in my apartment for the night. A representative from The Red Cross asked if I would need a place to stay, but I didn’t have any intention of sleeping that night. Even if I would have gotten all of the interviews and photos I needed to cover Monday’s paper, there’s no way I could have just left a scene to sleep.
It was sort of perfect for me in a way. I was kicked out of my apartment for the night and not inconvenienced in the slightest. It even gave me a great excuse to enjoy a casual Monday. I went to The Daily Journal at about 5 a.m. wearing shorts, flip flops and a T-shirt, which was a very unusual site for my coworkers since I wear a tie almost every day. I don’t think my heart rate returned to a resting level until after the paper printed, and at that point, I had been given the OK to return to my apartment and went home to crash.
I am happy to report that nothing in my apartment was damaged in any way. The slight smoky smell went away when I opened up my windows and turned on a few fans. My heart goes out to those who were not as fortunate as I was, however. Several residents and business owners are still trying to figure out what to do after the fire destroyed much of the building, and I can’t imagine what that would be like.
The most difficult but memorable part of my experience was interviewing Dee Hunt, a mother of three who escaped the worst part of the fire. She couldn’t take her eyes off the towering blaze as I asked her questions. I had gone back to my car for flip flops at this point, but she wasn’t wearing any shoes. She didn’t have shoes to go back to. I would like to encourage the community to help Dee and others affected by the fire in any way possible.
Any time we see a devastating event like this, the good in people shows up in huge ways. I am going to conclude by passing out several “Thumbs Ups.”
• Thumbs up to the Salvation Army for getting a table together to feed and hydrate emergency personnel within a half hour of receiving a call.
• Thumbs up to all nine area fire departments that drove in from all over to help fight the fire in the middle of the night.
• Thumbs up to Lance Wells and Lisa Paradise at the City Bakery for passing out fresh doughnuts to tired firefighters at 4 a.m.
• Thumbs up to the Red Cross for responding and displacing families in need of a place to stay.
• Thumbs up to everyone who had a hand in fighting the fire for responding quickly and containing the blaze. It wouldn’t have taken long for the fire to reach my apartment without a fast, effective response.
• Thumbs up to Fire Chief Sparky Hovland, the busiest man in Fergus Falls Monday morning, for taking the time to call me, a pesky member of the media, on my cellphone to explain what happened. Without that contact, everyone would have been in the dark.