It is difficult to believe that it was ten years ago when I burned the house down. The whole state of Minnesota was rooting for the Minnesota Twins to win the World Series. I was in the lower level of our lake home and decided to start the portable propane heater to take the chill off before the arrival of my grandson and his Dad. I was looking forward to having company because they were big fans of the Twins.
The instructions for lighting the heater were simple enough. Turn on the gas, wait ten seconds, and then push the igniter. On the third try, the gas that had been flowing from the unattached hose ignited. The twenty-pound propane cylinder in the heater was not screwed into the fitting. I had turned the valve on without checking the hose.
I didn't have time to dwell on my stupidity because the explosion had ignited the carpet and the lining under the easy chair. The propane being heavier than air had saturated the floor and the surrounding area. I threw the heater out the door leaving a supply of air for the fire. I soaked a large towel in the laundry sink and extinguished the fire under the chair. I thought I had the fire under control when suddenly the couch burst into flame, and the barn wood wall started on fire. I rushed upstairs and called 911. I made my way through the smoke in the upper level and observed that the lower level was engulfed in fire. My Navy Damage Control training had failed me. I knew it was time to leave.
My western hats were lined up on each step where they were blown off their hooks. I wished later I had grabbed my favorite Stetson on the way out. I let "Mick", our black lab, out of his kennel and turned the propane off at the main tank. My pickup was parked too close to the house for comfort, but the keys were in my Levis inside the house. I could only stand helplessly by and wait for the fire department. They arrived in record time, but it was a windy night, and the best they could do was save the garage. A contractor who was a family friend said, as the flames were still leaping high in the air, "I want to rebuild it for you."
The first responders took me to their van and put dressings on my hands. I asked them to call my wife Elly at work and tell her about the situation. When she arrived, the shock of my appearance and the still- burning house were overwhelming. The first responders convinced me to go to the emergency room at the hospital in town, so Elly and I left the scene. We found a telephone and called to tell our grandson and his dad the unbelievable story. Unbeknownst to me, the explosion had blown the back of my sweat pants out and I mooned the staff at the hospital. They checked my hands, said the first responders had done a good job, and released me to our family doctor.
We ended up watching the World Series game in a friend's motel, and our relatives brought us clothes for the next day. One of the firemen had salvaged some pictures that had some fire and water damage. Instead of watching the game, one of my nephews sorted and laid them out to dry. I like that boy.
The year was 1991, and it started snowing October 31. By November 2nd, Brainerd, Minnesota had twenty inches of snow. The newspaper headlines were of the Twins winning the World Series and the Halloween snowstorm. The Karst house fire rated a couple of lines in a small paper. When we looked at what was left of our house and all that snow, we knew things would not be normal in our world for a long time.
The next couple of weeks were spent moving into a cabin owned by Elly's boss and getting organized with the insurance company adjustor. Elly continued working the whole time. Talk about a trooper. The adjustor explained what full replacement insurance meant; he said, "I won't pay full price for your used underwear, but if you buy new ones, I will pay for those." I liked this young man from the start, and he was instrumental in putting our life back to normal. He didn't even question us when we told him we both had old accordions, but couldn't play them.
The insurance company required an inventory of everything we had in the house. Elly tackled this mind-boggling task with a vengeance. I kidded her about knowing how many slices of bread were in the bread wrapper and how many olives were in the olive jar. She still had to dress my burned hands, so her sense of humor had not yet returned. She did a good job on my hands because even my fingerprints are normal.
The contractor who approached me the night of the fire was slow, but he did a good job and included all the things we had planned to do before the fire. Every World Series and Halloween we are reminded of the fire. One of my relatives said, "You have a lovely home, Morrie." I replied, "Yes, we had a successful fire."
© 2001 Maurice D. Karst
Census Records | Vital Records | Family Trees & Communities | Immigration Records | Military Records Directories & Member Lists | Family & Local Histories | Newspapers & Periodicals | Court, Land & Probate | Finding Aids