A Farm House Burns Down

The fire started in the night on October 5, 2012. Linda, her husband Tom, and their dog Rex were asleep in their home on the Cook family homestead in Somerset, Wisconsin. Rex woke first. He nudged Tom’s arm then Tom woke Linda. Their house was on fire. Linda saw flames going up a wall. She went for the fire extinguisher. It was empty or broken. The fire spread fast. The century-old house turned out to be a tinder box ready to burn. Linda saw Rex through the smoke. She followed him outside. Her feet were bare. She wore pajamas. She looked for Tom. Linda thought he was behind her. “I turned around and he wasn’t there.” He was inside, somewhere inside a house filled with flames and smoke. He was somewhere in the house where he was born and where he spent most of his nights.

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Linda met Tom at the old Stardust Room in Osceola, Wisconsin. “He went there every day. For our first date we went to the fair.” They married in 1974. “I said I’d never marry a trucker or a farmer and I married a man who was both.” Together, they raised five children. For years he worked as a local mechanic and farmed the Cook land with a horse-pulled tractor. Years earlier, in 1968, he lost a hand in a corn picker but he managed, choosing prosthesis for a working arm over a re-attached limp hand. He was no stranger to fire. A barn burned in 1991. Tom and Linda lost horses, cows, pigs, a dog and hundreds of hay bales. Linda baled hay too. “We worked side by side.”

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Tom died in the fire. Linda says he will be remembered as a caring, loving guy. “He loved everybody. He loved his horses.” Tom was known in the area, Linda says, for his horses. They were regulars in the local parade. “We’d get the horses and away we went!”

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During the funeral services, Tom’s ashes were held in a wooden box that his son Scott handmade. Farmers, truckers and others from around the area attended the services. Around 200 people paid their respects. Linda received hugs, many hugs. “My shoulders hurt from all the hugs.” Starting soon to rebuild her life, she wants to put a trailer on the farm. “I don’t want to leave the farm. Tom always said, if something happened to him, stay on the farm.” Red Cross emergency relief has helped to get her going. The Red Cross has been great, she says. “I didn’t know there was a Red Cross out here. I don’t even know how they got my name. I didn’t expect anybody.”

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Wherever she goes and however long it takes to recover, Linda plans to have her dog Rex by her side. “Rex got me out. He’s my hero.” Seven years go Rex was a puppy offered for free at a farm auction. Now he’s a hero to everyone. To all those–Rex, too–who save and comfort our neighbors during great times of need, we express our heartfelt gratitude.

Story and photos by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. Photo descriptions: (1) a baking pan survived the fire; (2) the remains of the Cook farm house; (3) Scott Cook’s handmade box for his dad’s ashes; (4) Red Cross nurse Vonnie Thomas hugs Linda Cook where she’s staying with family in New Prague, Minnesota; and (5) Rex, 7 years old, canine hero and beloved family member.

Banging on doors, pounding on windows saves lives

Story and photos by Red Cross Volunteer Amy Conger

Nathan Steen (l) receives comfort kits for his children from Red Cross disaster relief volunteer John Trieb, July 5, 2012. Photo credit: Amy Conger/American Red Cross

Hudson, Wisconsin resident Nathan Steen was watching TV around 2:30 in the morning, July 5, 2012, when he started to smell an odd, almost chemical-like, smell in his basement apartment. He opened the door to his unit and was shocked to see thick black smoke in the hallway. Running to the fire alarm pull switch in the hallway, he yanked it several times but did not hear the alarm. Nathan couldn’t see flames or the source of the fire, so he went back to his apartment, woke his wife and two children, and called then called 911. He then ran to the other apartments, banging on doors to alert his neighbors to the fire. He was pounding on windows from outside, yelling “Fire!”, when the police arrived and began to assist getting people out from the other 9 units of the building.

Red Cross disaster relief volunteer Jason Winget (l) assisted resident Jannelle Waara following the Hudson apartment fire, July 5, 2012. Photo credit: Amy Conger/American Red Cross

The other residents report opening their doors to thick black smoke before rushing out of the building. A main concern of all the residents was the failure of the alarms to sound. Nathan Steen was truly a hero to alert everyone to the danger before it spread to other areas of the building. The fire appears to have occurred in a basement storage area, but the incident is under investigation by the Hudson Police Department.

Kevin Williams (c) shares his surprise about Red Cross disaster relief with volunteer Jason Winget, July 5, 2012. Photo credit: Amy Conger/American Red Cross

Red Cross volunteer workers Jason Winget and John Trieb assisted residents of the two lower units with emergency disaster relief. They will be able to return to their homes after the smoke damage is cleared. Everyone assisted by the Red Cross was thankful for the help. Kevin Williams, who was displaced by the fire with his mother, said that the Red Cross helped bring relief and comfort to them. He didn’t know that Red Cross volunteers helped people in situations like this and said that he would consider volunteering himself in the future to help others dealing with disaster from fire.

Visit our website redcrossmn.org to learn more about Red Cross services and opportunities.

Every Donation Counts

Ruby Born, 6, held a lemonade stand and raised money for Red Cross disaster relief. Photo credit: Nancy Rogers/American Red Cross

When Ruby Born, 6, came to the Red Cross office in Duluth, Minnesota, after the flash flooding, she had a sparkly yellow skirt, a beautiful smile, and a plastic bag filled with cash for the American Red Cross disaster relief operation helping affected families. “We sold lemonade,” she told the Red Cross.

Ruby held a two-day lemonade stand in her Superior, Wisconsin, neighborhood (just across a bridge from Duluth), selling an estimated 60 cups of lemonade.  Her parents Jeanne and Hector matched Ruby’s $150 in sales. And Enbridge Energy in Superior matched their combined gift for a total contribution of $600.00.

Red Cross disaster relief workers distribute clean up supplies in flood damaged Willow River, MN. Photo credit: Judy Hanne-Gonzalez/American Red Cross

The Red Cross continues to respond to flash flooding that resulted after a storm dumped more than 9 inches of rain across northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, causing widespread damage and displacing hundreds of people. The Red Cross supported around 200 people in shelters.  Red Cross disaster relief workers conducted damage assessment across several counties in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Other Red Cross workers are still on the ground distributing water, food, and cleaning supplies to people in the most impacted areas.

Asked why she raised the money, Ruby’s mom said the family talked together about the flood and discussed ways to help.  Ruby said, “I want to give the money to the Red Cross.”

Red Cross disaster relief workers provide food from mobile trucks, Fond du Lac, Minnesota. Photo credit: Judy Hanne-Gonzalez/American Red Cross.

Thank you Ruby, and to everyone, for supporting the American Red Cross and helping fulfill our mission to reduce human suffering in the face of emergencies.

Every dollar counts, including those made from selling lemonade. If you would like to help people affected by the Northland flooding and other disasters here and around the world, you can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to your local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross P.O. Box 37423, Washington, DC 20013.