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UPDATE: 21-year-old badly burned in garage fire near Audubon

AUDUBON, Minn. -- A rural Audubon man was seriously injured in a garage fire Wednesday evening on Pearl Lake Drive.

Aaron Kalberer, 21, was burned when gasoline fumes ignited in the roughly 24-foot-by-24-foot detached two-car garage, which was set up with shop equipment for vehicle maintenance.

Kalberer was taken to Essentia St. Mary’s Hospital in Detroit Lakes with burns to his hands and arms. He was later taken to the Hennepin County Medical Burn Center in Minneapolis where he was listed in serious condition, with first- and second-degree burns, according to Audubon Fire Chief Darcy Savig.

It’s believed that Kalberer spilled gasoline while working in the garage, and the fire ignited from a spark when he unplugged a battery charger or similar equipment, Savig said. “That’s how he got burned,” he said.

The fire was reported just before 9:30 p.m. and the garage was fully engulfed when Audubon firefighters arrived about 15 minutes later.

They quickly knocked down the fire, but “it got hot in a quick hurry,” Savig said. Hot enough to damage siding on the nearby house and a neighbor’s garage about 20 feet away, and to melt plastic parts on automobiles parked in the vicinity, Savig said.

The firefighting effort was complicated by a 250-gallon propane tank located behind the garage. The heat caused the propane to vent out, “which is what they’re supposed to do, it’s a safety device,” Savig said. But crews had to stay on the scene all night to make sure the tank continued to safely vent and burn off. They wanted to make sure no propane escaped and gathered in low places to ignite later.

Firefighters actually relit the propane tank after they put it out during the firefighting efforts to make sure it was all safely burned off. They were there until about 7:30 a.m.

Detroit Lakes firefighters provided mutual assistance at the scene.

The fire marshal determined the cause of the fire was accidental from gasoline and a spark.

Spilled gasoline in an enclosed area needs to be handled immediately, Savig said. “Hit it with floor-dry, or kitty litter — anything that absorbs it,” he said.

“If you spill a lot of gas in a small area,” he added, don’t do anything with power sources, including using automatic garage door openers, but manually open doors and windows to ventilate the area as much as possible, and leave the building until the fumes are cleared out.

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