Report: Lighters caused Sat. blaze

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 20, 2008

By Sarah Kirchner and Tim Engstrom,

Children playing with lighters on the second floor was the cause of a fire that torched an Albert Lea house on Saturday, said Albert Lea Fire Department Capt. Jim Berg.

He said the chief fire investigator ruled it an accidental fire.

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The house, at 215 Pearl St. is owned by Jim Balkins of Elgin. It housed eight people &8212; four adults and four kids. The Freeborn County chapter of the American Red Cross assisted the displaced families.

One of those families is Lisa Frank and her 14-year-old son Chaice.

She said this morning that she, Chaice and the Richard and Kim Borg family have been staying at the Country Inn & Suites. The Borgs have three boys and lived on the second story of the house. A single man lived in the third apartment of the triplex.

The families learned of the cause Wednesday night.

Frank said she has not returned to the house to see the damage and said she didn&8217;t have apartment insurance. She said help from her employer, Love&8217;s Travel Center, &8220;has been wonderful.&8221; She said she also has had help from the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Grace Lutheran Church.

&8220;It&8217;s been wonderful, just the people that are there, the offers. It&8217;s really hard and people ask what you need and it&8217;s basically everything,&8221; Frank said.

She said the entire house was occupied at the time of fire Saturday afternoon but everyone got out safely.

She said she was watching television Saturday when she heard a thump upstairs. She assumed the boys were roughhousing. She heard steps and then her front door flew open. One of the Borg boys hollered, &8220;Fire! Get out!&8221; She grabbed her jacket and her son&8217;s jacket and the two stepped out of the house.

Firefighter injury

The fire Saturday on Pearl Street in Albert Lea injured a firefighter working at the scene.

A firefighter, whose name has not been released, was removing a window to vent the flames and smoke when glass from an upper window fell on his hand and cut through his glove, said Albert Lea Fire Department Capt. Scott Hanna.

Paramedics from the Albert Lea Medical Center ambulance were on hand to help with medical needs. They cleaned the wound and bandaged the firefighter, who then went back to working on the fire, Hanna said. Once the fire was out &8212; nearly four hours later &8212; the firefighter was transported to the emergency room to get the wound stitched.

Fortunately for the people involved, that was the only injury that occurred Saturday when flames engulfed a triplex at 215 Pearl St.

The call came in to the fire station at 2:30 p.m., and Hanna said when the first fire engine got to the corner of Broadway Avenue he could see black smoke, &8220;which is not a good indication.&8221; When the truck Hanna was riding got to the corner of Pearl Street, he said he could see flames.

&8216;Fire was doing unusual things&8217;

Hanna said the building and its contents are a total loss. Preliminary figures have the structure valued at $62,000, according to the fire department&8217;s report, and the contents valued at $30,000.

The exact loss and cause of the fire have yet to be determined, according to the report.

The report from the fire department states the fire started in a bedroom on the second floor. Hanna said the main body of fire was extinguished quickly, and then firefighters moved on to put out the spreading fire. The layout of the two-story house caused the fire to spread in two different directions.

&8220;Because of the construction and the way it was remodeled, the fire was doing unusual things,&8221; Hanna said.

By the time firefighters arrived at the home, Hanna said, the fire had spread to the attic. It took a while for firefighters to get into the attic because entrances were boarded up or turned into a closet.

&8220;Just trying to get into the attic space without an access was a lot of work,&8221; Hanna said.

The firefighters ended up using a ladder truck and applied water from above, the report states.

More than 20 firefighters from the Albert Lea Fire Department and the Albert Lea Township Fire Department worked on the fire, Hanna said. After nearly four hours the firefighters left satisfied the flames wouldn&8217;t rekindle, he said. In that time firefighters went through 35 air tanks, each of which last 25 to 30 minutes.

&8220;It was a long time there, and it was a big fire,&8221; he said.