by Jim Boyle
An Elk River couple will finish celebrating Christmas this weekend after fire destroyed their home three days before the actual holiday.
The fire, though devastating in certain respects, has not dampened their Christmas spirit.
They already gathered with some family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, eaten more than they should have and opened wrapped gifts filled with the material things of life.
Scott and Tammy Thompson say the fire has only strengthened their faith in God, offering them a not-so-subtle reminder of the reason for the season.
The empty nesters still have each other. Their pooch remains by their side. There’s really only one present they would really like to open. It’s the one that came in the form of a “guardian angel,” who spotted fire long before they ever would have at their home on Dec. 22 in the 12600 block of 208th Street in Elk River.
The man pulled into their driveway, got out of his white sedan and came to the front door where he pounded “like a mad man.”
The Thompsons, meanwhile, ran up the stairs to the front door to see what the fuss was all about and, after opening the door, heard the man yell but three things: ‘Your truck’s on fire,’ ‘I called 911’ and ‘Get out!’
Their guardian angel phoned 911 at about 8:57 p.m. about a vehicle fire next to a garage. He would leave long before the Thompsons could thank him. The couple had been nestled in the downstairs portion of the rambler Scott built in 1999 as a work truck apparently had started on fire.
Tammy, 49, ran for a winter jacket, boots and the couple’s 12-year-old yellow lab named Nelli and headed across the street.
Scott, 53, ran for his keys and headed to the garage. He was able to save a Ford Fusion and one of his work trucks, a Ford Ranger he uses for his well drilling and service company called Able Well Inc.
A GMC Acadia that had been idle for days wouldn’t start, however, so he finally headed for safety. The cab of the Ford F-350 that sat just outside his three-car garage was filled with flames.
By the time Elk River Fire arrived, the vehicle was engulfed and the fire was working its way up the sidewall to the garage. It made its way into the attic and tore a path across the rafters as it began to destroy the top floor of the home — all but the Thompson’s Christmas tree.
In the days that followed the blaze, the tree, cut from Goldenman’s Tree Farm in Zimmerman, stood as symbol of the couple’s faith that God is in control and even in the midst of darkness, he has a plan.
Pictures of the tree were passed around via email and social media. Only the tip of the tree had been singed by the blaze. The needles were still shiny and green. Red bows were still tied and ornaments still hung from the branches.
“Fire cannot put out God’s light,” Scott said in an interview with the Star News.
One of the items retrieved from the tree was “the most awesome ornament,” Tammy said. It simply read: “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
The Thompsons have continued on with all their Christmas plans, with only a few slight alterations. They have given a great deal of thought to the fact that it was only in the 8 o’clock hour that this fire started, they were awake and the likelihood of someone spotting the fire and alerting them was far greater than had it started a few hours later.
They have gotten more hugs than usual this Christmas season. More prayers have been directed their way. The picture of the Christmas tree has been forwarded to the Minnesota Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Ernie Goldenman, who founded the tree farm in 1972, said it’s not unheard of to have a well-cared for tree survive a house fire, but this is the first one that happened to a customer and longtime family friend of his.
“That’s pretty special
,” Goldenman said, acknowledging the Thompsons got out safe. “Scott played hockey with our son.”
Block heater investigated
Scott, who parked his struck at about 4:30 p.m. the previous day, suspects the block heater he hooked up to his truck is the most likely cause, but the fire remains under investigation. Emergency personnel on the scene saw nothing suspicious, according to police and fire reports.
The fire caused extensive damage to the home, but the Thompsons say the basement, where each offices for their home-based businesses, suffered minor damage.
They have been able to retrieve Bibles, wrapped presents and Tammy’s wedding ring.
Firefighters from Elk River, Zimmerman/Livonia, Baldwin and Big Lake were on the scene until 1:30 a.m. extinguishing the fire. An engine company from the Ramsey Fire Department relocated to Elk River to provide coverage during the fire.
The Thompsons are staying with their son-in-law’s parents until they find a rental home while they rebuild.
The Thompsons are thankful for all the support they have received by neighbors D.J. Bakken, Ken Miller and others — some they have never met but hope to in the future to say thanks.
“We’re so appreciative of the love and support we have received from our church and our neighbors,” Tammy said. “We’re really grateful.”