Sleepy Eye Fire Department responded to two calls Saturday, June 23, a downtown building and rural debris fire.

The Sleepy Eye Fire Department was called to building fire on Main Street Saturday morning, June 23. On arrival at 140 East Main, they found the basement had been heavily damaged by fire. Assistant Chief Ron Moldaschel said the department was called out around 9:45 a.m. and responded with 20 firefighters, who were on the scene until 2:45 p.m.

Moldaschel described the damage as a burnt out basement. “Every inch was involved,” he said. “The fire caused structural damage (beams, etc.) and heavy smoke damage to the store and the apartment above.” According to Moldaschel, the State Fire Marshal recorded the cause of the fire as “accidental electrical.” Utilities to the building—electricity and gas—were turned off and the building was turned back to the owner.

That unlucky guy is Eugene Bertrand. “I don’t have insurance on the building,” Bertrand said on Tuesday. “I told the Fire Marshal that, so there would be no question of the fire being set.” He chuckled a little when telling that tale, but likely wasn’t really amused.

Found behind his building Tuesday afternoon, Bertrand was at work removing things from the basement and preparing to clean the space, so any damage could be located for repair. He said he had concertinas and other possesions in the basement, but was sure they could be cleaned of the smoke damage.

Bertrand said a renter in the upstairs apartment also had to leave the building. The apartment experienced smoke damage and cannot be inhabited due to that and the utilities being shut off.

On the main level of the building is Montana Mielke’s antique store, Grizzle Canyon Antiques. On Tuesday Mielke said he is almost done cleaning his store and merchandise. Indeed, as we talked, he was in the process of selling several items to a pair of customers who were unfazed by the circumstances of the unlit store. “I will be open my normal hours,” said Mielke. “The big front windows let in quite a bit of light. Maybe I will be able to bring some lanterns to add a little more light.”

Bertrand expects to keep at it — he said he plans to make any needed structural repairs.

Chief Moldaschel acknowledged the fear in fighting a fire in a downtown building is that it could spread and involve buildings on either side or more. He was pleased to report that in this case the fire was contained to the basement of the one building.

SEFD responds to second Saturday fire

Late Saturday night, after 11 p.m., the beepers went off again and the Sleepy Eye Fire Department was dispatched to a reported hog barn fire in Albin Township. Assistant Chief Jeff Zinniel said a passerby phoned in the report, which upon arrival was found to be debris being burned by the property owner. The fire was extinguished. Zinniel said the property owner failed to inform Brown County dispatch of his intent to burn. “We’d like to remind rural property owners that they are required to call Brown County when they are burning something,” said Zinniel. “That way if a call comes in about a fire at that address, dispatch is already informed and can have a deputy drive out to see if it is under control before dispatching a fire department. If we are dispatched, we put out the fire.”