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Friends rally to aid fire victims

FARMINGTON — No one was injured in a house fire that apparently ignited from a large furnace in the garage.

Farmington Fire Department responded at 12:03 a.m. Feb. 4 to a fire at 18617 Explorer Way in the Nelson Hills Neighborhood.

Homeowners Tom and Michele Smith were out to dinner with a friend. Their 19-year-old son, Kyle, was home and smelled smoke.

"As soon has he saw the extent of the fire, he grabbed his phone and called 9-1-1 and drove his car down the road," Michele Smith said. Her son then called them.

"He had just gotten out of the shower to play in the game room," she said.

Feeling fortunate her son was not sleeping when the fire broke out, Smith understands how this tragedy could have been much worse.

"We lost two cats in the fire," Smith said.

For four hours, firefighters fought the blaze during frigid temperatures. The house was a total loss, Fire Chief Justin Elvestad said.

Thirty-two Farmington on-call, volunteer firefighters responded along with mutual aid from Rosemount and Lakeville Fire departments. Firefighters rotated on the scene to contain the fire.

"The neighbor across the street opened up their heated garage to help the firefighters warm up," Elvestad said. "It takes a lot more people to manage a fire in the cold and heat because our equipment freezes."

No firefighters were injured.

"They did amazing work," Elvestad said. "The challenge with a structure fire like this one is the fire doubles in size every 30 to 45 seconds because of the products that homes are made of today that burn quicker and faster than in the past."

The family has recovered some belongings. Friends provided all kinds of support with storage bins, boxes and newspapers to wrap dishes, as well as kind words and warm wishes

"I am a part of the Facebook community Real Housewives in Farmington and now I am much closer to these friends now, and ones who I only recognized their names because of all the things they have done helping out," Smith said.

"The community, whether it is in Farmington or at my work or my husband's work, have all shown an amazing, outpouring of support," she added. Feeling fortunate to share a homemade casserole and family meal, they are living with warmed their hearts.

A past soccer coach of her son's set up a GoFundMe account under the name Tom and Michele Smith of Farmington.

"I think one thing I have shared on social media and my Facebook page are the things I have learned about record keeping and taking pictures of your belongings because I never did that," Smith said.

Now friends tell her they are checking their smoke detectors and taking photographs and documenting their personal belongings.

One factor is fighting the fire was access to water. Reminding local residents to shovel around neighborhood fire hydrants, Elvestad said firefighters were able to gain immediate access to the water.

"We ask people to keep their fire hydrants areas shoveled to give a three foot access to them," Elvestad said.

The family now resides with friends and look to lease a temporary rental unit. They plan to rebuild their split, four-level house that may be ready to move back in a year.

"The foundation itself is not damaged by the water and freezing and we can build on the slab," Smith said.

"It is amazing how something like this does pull a community together and people realize how easily things can go away."