A house fire on New Year’s Day destroyed the Matt and Michelle Splonskowski residence in rural Callaway and took the lives of a number of dogs and cats that were inside the wood-frame home, said White Earth Fire Chief Gus Bevins.
No one was home and no people were injured in the Jan. 1 fire, which was reported about 9 a.m., but is believed to have started earlier -- perhaps due to an electrical issue but most likely due to a wood-burning furnace in the basement, Bevins said.
“It was burning quite a while before anyone saw it,” Bevins said. “It was already up the floor into the main living space when we got there,” he added. “It didn’t give us much of a chance, but we tried.”
Not too long after firefighters arrived, the roof started to collapse onto the main floor, he said.
The blaze was reported by a neighbor who was afraid that people were inside the burning house, and firefighters responded accordingly.
“That’s what panicked us,” Bevins said. “When we got a call back that everybody was out of the house, we were able to relax a little.”
The homeowners were due to catch a plane that morning, so nobody was home at the time of the fire, he said.
Madisen Splonskowski, 17, said she is one of six people in the household, which includes her dad, stepmom, stepsister and two sisters.
It’s been especially hard on her youngest sister, who is 11, and whose birthday is next month, she said.
There were 10 dogs and five cats in the house at the time of the fire, Madisen said. “Everyone in the family has their personal dog,” she said. “All our dogs were raised from puppies, so it’s been pretty hard.” The family also used to raise rescue dogs, she said.
Three cats managed to escape the fire, through a room that had a cat exit to the outside that they could use, but several other cats are still missing, she said.
Madisen said the family was in Fargo to take her stepmom to the airport, to use airline tickets she got for Christmas to visit a relative in Oregon. The plane had left and the family was doing some shopping when they got the call about the fire, she said.
Firefighters used about 35,000 gallons of water fighting the fire, Bevins said. The older two-story house was built from pine lumber from a local sawmill, and it burned quickly, he said. “We finally brought in a backhoe, pushed everything into the basement and let it burn,” he said. “By then it was a total loss anyway.”
Firefighters from Callaway, Detroit Lakes, Audubon, Ogema and Waubun assisted at the scene, ferrying water in tanker trucks (some capable of holding 4,000 gallons) from hydrants in Callaway and White Earth.
White Earth firefighters were on the scene at 30851 282nd Ave., Callaway, for nearly seven hours, Bevins said.
Madisen said she’s not sure what will happen next. The home was insured, but perhaps not up to replacement value. Her father is talking about digging out the site and replacing the house with a double-wide mobile home, but no decisions have been made yet, she said. She’ll be leaving for college soon and her stepsister is moving out, too, she said.
“The home is completely gone except for some metal parts and the foundation, she said. “A lot of us had clothes in bags and a few other things,” she said. “All my dad had were the clothes on his back.”
Madisen has worked at Caribou Coffee in Detroit Lakes for about two years, and the coffee shop has rallied around the family, said Assistant Manager Ally Voss, who started a GoFundMe account that had raised over $5,000 toward a $10,000 goal by late Thursday afternoon.
“As (Madisen’s) work family, it’s the least we can do,” Voss said. Caribou employees are also donating all tips this weekend to help the family, she said. And Caribou is also serving as a drop-off point for donated clothing, money, and toiletries, she said.
Can you help?
To view the GoFundMe, visit www.gofundme.com/f/splonskowski