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Flames destroy home near Mississippi River

Bemidji volunteer firefighter Terry Munter was first on the scene of a house fire at 4940 Sherman Ave. N.E. Tuesday afternoon. He helped hold a hose until more help arrived; then, he changed into his firefighting gear. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Jennifer Lintelmann had just started a fire in her home fireplace Tuesday afternoon when a few minutes later, after walking away, she smelled smoke. After inspecting the fireplace, she realized it was not coming from inside her house.

She and her daughter stepped outside and saw black smoke rising above the treetops across the street. When they heard sirens and saw a police car drive by, they realized their next-door neighbor's house was on fire.

The Lintelmanns and other neighbors gathered on the street and watched as 18 firefighters with the Bemidji Fire Department fought to contain the fire consuming a house owned by Pat Sullivan and located at 4950 Sherman Drive N.E. in Bemidji.

Sullivan was at work when his house caught on fire and was given a ride back to his home after he was notified.

Standing in the woods near his home and watching with tears in his eyes as firefighters continued to work, Sullivan said he did not want to comment until the cause of the fire was known.

"I was worried he was still in there," Sullivan's neighbor, Jennifer, said. "I'm glad he's OK. That was my first reaction."

Bemidji Fire Chief Dave Hoefer said that when the two squads of firefighters arrived shortly after 2:30 p.m., the house was fully engulfed.

"It was reported by a passing motorist," he said. "It was well involved when we got here."

The firefighting team used two engine trucks, three tankers and one ladder truck to contain the fire by 3:11 p.m. The State Fire Marshall, Bemidji Ambulance and Bemidji Police Department also assisted. No injuries were reported.

Because there were no fire hydrants in the heavily-wooded neighborhood, firefighters had to tap into a fire hydrant near Lincoln Elementary School and shuttle it several miles to the blaze.

Going into the evening, Hoefer said fire fighters would be searching for hidden fires, which he described as "overhaul."

"The problem is when it gets this involved, you get a lot of hidden fire in a lot of different spots," he said. "We're going to search for hidden fire, and since it's warm today, we're taking it easy and pushing the fluids."

Nellie Withoff, who lives down the road from Sullivan's house, said she found out about the fire when she drove to pick up her mail and saw fire engines parked in the road.

"I just feel terrible for him," she said. "I hope I can help him out in some way, although I don't know how."

Pam Hudson and her husband, Brian, live two doors down from Sullivan on Sherman Drive. She said she was working in her garage when she heard fire engine sirens near the house. After walking toward the commotion, she saw flames bursting out of her neighbor's house.

"It was very strange," Pam said. "For the longest time we didn't know if (Sullivan) was home or not, but he showed up, so I was very relieved to see him."

Brian added he was concerned the fire could spread toward their house because the neighborhood is so wooded.

"We saw flashing lights. People started gathering. I was worried that it was going to spread," he said. "That's why I ran over and saw at least at that point it wasn't. The other concern was that (Sullivan) was in the house, but fortunately he showed up."