Fire after rainstorms guts Maple Lake area house

Although Maple Lake was spared the worst punch of a storm that caused havoc through Central Minnesota on June 24, a house fire at the western edge of Maple Lake was attributed to a malfunctioning sump pump in the early morning hours of June 25.

The home of Bill and MaryJo Wurm suffered severe interior damage after flames ignited by the sump pump burned the basement area and caused extensive smoke damage to the upper floor.

Bill said he had checked on the sump pump at 10:30 p.m. as the storm was in the process of dumping about five inches of rain on Maple Lake. He and his son, Eric, a junior at Maple Lake High School, were at their home at 5424 Gunderson Avenue NW keeping track of the effects of the storm there while MaryJo and daughter Chelsie, a 2003 MLHS graduate, were watching for storm damage at their rental home in Maple Lake. And 13-year-old Jeremiah was on a trip to Wisconsin.

Bill said he and Eric were asleep at about 2:30 a.m. when the sound of an explosion woke him up. “I thought it was just a thunder blast,” he said. “But then the fire alarms went off right after that.”

The sump pump in the Wurm’s finished basement was contained in a room under the stairs just off the master bedroom. “I could see smoke coming under the door where the sump pump was and then a ball of flames came right at me,” Bill said.

Bill said Eric awoke with the alarms in his upstairs bedroom and saw flames coming up and around the ceiling.  “We started screaming for the fire extinguisher,” Bill said. “When we couldn’t find it, we just turned and ran out the door.”

Bill said he and his son ran out screaming for help and neighbor Kathy Willey, who had heard the explosion and came out to see what had happened, called 911. A few minutes later, the Maple Lake Fire Department arrived on the scene and quickly contained the fire.    “We just stepped back and let the firemen do their work,” Bill said. “They were excellent. If they hadn’t gotten here as fast as they did, who knows what would have happened.”

Bill said the explosion that succeeded in waking everyone up was caused by a propane bottle torch in the sump pump area that blew up when the flames reached it. “Thank God it was there,” he said. “Todd Borell (fire chief) said five more minutes and we would never have made it out.  “We just thank God every day that we got out safely. Everything else is just material items. It’s all replaceable, but you can’t replace a life.”

The basement contained two bedrooms and the family room, which Bill described as “pretty much toast. We’d been remodeling for the last ten years and were just beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now we can start remodeling again.”

It is expected that the interior of the house will have to be gutted, and although the Wurms have insurance, there are many expenses that insurance doesn’t cover. Friends and neighbors of the Wurms are seeking to offer the family their support by planning a benefit for July 13 at the American Legion Club in Maple Lake.

The event will start at 4 p.m. with a porkchop dinner set for 5 p.m. There will also be a silent auction, door prizes and entertainment by Rhapsody (DJ and Karoke).

Anyone seeking more information or wishing to offer assistance can call Sue Thrun at 274-5470 or Jodi Sawatzke at 963-5749.

A considerable number of helping hands also came to the assistance of the Wurms right after the fire, salvaging clothes and taking them to various homes for a total of 46 loads of laundry. “So we don’t need any clothes,” Bill laughed. “Thank God for a ton of friends. They just helped us out tremendously.

“And thanks to our volunteer firemen for all their great work. As Maple Lake citizens, we don’t know how lucky we are to have such a great fire department until something like this happens.

“We would like to say thanks for all the hard work in helping us out as much as all those people did.”  

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