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UPDATE: Home up in smoke on Lake Mary

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An early morning fire started in the attic of the James and Connie Lawrie home at 1320 Bryant Street in Alexandria Saturday, causing the roof to collapse.

Fire guts home on Bryant St.

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Kacie Mercil and a friend, Jordan Henderson, decided to take a smoke break at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

It was a good thing they did.

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They were standing outside Mercil's place, where she was hosting a birthday party for her roommate, when they no-ticed flames coming from the roof of a home across the alley on Bryant Street.

"It took us a second to real-ize what was happening and then we told someone to call 911 and we ran over to the house," Mercil said. "We got inside and started yelling, 'Your house is on fire!' "

The sleeping family - James and Connie Lawrie and their two children, aged 6 and 12 - escaped with only the clothes on their backs.

"It all happened so fast," Mercil recalled. "I remember being in the house and the next thing I remember is eve-ryone getting out OK."

Mercil added that all the people at the birthday party had a hand in getting people out and helping during the fire.

When Alexandria firefight-ers arrived on the scene six to eight minutes after the 911 call came in, the Lawrie home at 1320 Bryant Street was be-yond saving.

"When I came down Bryant I could see the fire venting in three locations on the roof, which is very rare," said Fire Chief Jeff Karrow. "It meant that the fire had been going a long time."

The home, built in 1962, was constructed with heavy tim-ber that fueled the fire, Kar-row said. The roof was al-ready starting to collapse when firefighters got there.

"After determining that everyone inside had gotten out safely, we deemed it was not safe for firefighters to en-ter the house," Karrow said. "We went into a defensive mode."

A crew of 22 to 23 firefight-ers responded to the early morning blaze in 11-below temperatures. They used a "surround and drown" strat-egy until the fire was out at 7:30 a.m.

A few of them returned an hour later when flames reig-nited in the roof area and they were on scene until about 11 a.m. Karrow returned once again later that afternoon when smoke was spotted com-ing out of the west side of the structure.

The cause of the fire, which started in the attic area, is under investigation. Karrow said his best guess is that it was caused by a wood burn-ing stove or an electrical wir-ing problem.

The gutted house, he said, is a "100 percent loss." It was recently appraised at $150,000. Also destroyed were personal belongings - a loss Karrow estimated at $75,000.

Karrow helped the Lawrie family find lodging at a local hotel. An insurance adjustor is helping them in the fire's aftermath, the chief added.

The West Central Chapter of the Minnesota Red Cross also provided assistance.

Although most of the fam-ily's belongings were lost in the fire, some items, including a cherished family photo-graph taken shortly after World War II, were un-touched, Karrow said.

The family had smoke de-tectors in the home and had recently changed the batteries but they failed to go off.

"The fire was above them, in the attic, and the smoke never got to the detectors," Karrow said.

Karrow estimated that the fire had been burning for at least an hour before Mercil and her friends woke up the family.

As devastating as the fire was, there is a happy ending. Everyone got out safely, in-cluding the family's two dogs.

The family's cat was miss-ing until about 7 a.m. when a firefighter found it hiding in the basement, healthy and alive.

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Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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