If not for faith, family and friends, the Meier family of rural Peterson, Minn., do not know how they would have coped with the devastating fire that took their home on December 27, 2016.
As it was just two days after Christmas, Evan and Shannon Meier had all three of their children at home that day on winter break from school. The family was going to spend some time with Shannon’s parents that evening, so Shannon took Alaina, 10, Hudson, 3, and Dayis, 9 months, in her vehicle and Evan was going to follow in his vehicle after doing chores on their hog farm.
Shannon’s parents, Brett and Carol Hyter, live in Choice, Minn., and after Shannon arrived there a little before 4 p.m., Evan had called once asking if there was anything she needed him to bring when he came to her parents.
“Shortly thereafter, he called back really upset and said, “You need to get home, the house is on fire,” states Shannon. She left Hudson and Alaina with her parents and brought Dayis with her as she headed home to see what the extent of the fire was.
Evan explains how the fire was discovered, saying, “I was down in the barns. I had been working in the basement and had went outside to get something” when he heard their pigs making some noise, so he went to check on them. Since he was down there he decided to do chores.
“I came up from the barns and I saw smoke behind the house,” states Evan, “but it didn’t register right away because we have a big outdoor wood boiler” back there, and it was also near where the water heater and furnace are vented outside.
But then, “I saw flames coming up through the deck,” notes Evan, adding, “I knew it wasn’t good when I saw that,” as the fire had burned out a basement window located underneath the deck and had started the deck on fire.
Being a firefighter himself for the last six years with the fire department in Rushford, Minn., Evan knew to call 911 first, and then called his wife. The page for the Rushford Fire Department for the house fire at 30690 Digger Road in Peterson, Minn., came in at 4:37 p.m. and they were on scene quickly to help aid their fellow firefighter.
In the meantime, Evan had called a neighbor, Ryan Agrimson, to ask if he had any fire extinguishers on hand. “We sprayed four or five extinguishers” in the basement window says Evan, but it didn’t slow the fire down.
Evan felt helpless as there were no hoses for him to grab like there would normally be, because everything was put away for winter, including a garden hose that is hooked up and handy any other time of year.
The Rushford Fire Department had arrived on scene and were fighting the fire when Shannon pulled in their driveway and she could see the Lewiston Fire Department arriving shortly behind her. The Houston Fire Department also came to assist.
As she arrived, Shannon says she saw smoke coming out of the windows, but she couldn’t really see any flames as the fire was in the basement and moved to the deep interior of the house and up the walls before flames were noticeable.
“I didn’t really realize the severity of it,” says Shannon, but Evan knew because of his firefighting experience.
The firemen were able to reach through the windows and grab a few of the family’s belongings, which they are grateful for. Shannon is a photographer, which the Rushford Fire Department members know, and “they know how important it is to me,” she says, so when Evan pointed out to the firefighters where her camera equipment was in the house, they were able to reach her computer, cameras, camera gear and some photo albums and set outside.
They also managed to save several items from the living room, including toys, a lamp and some blankets. “Those few things they set out was pretty great,” states Shannon.
Once the center of the home started to burn, the floors and ceilings gave out, which made the structure very unstable and unsafe. After fighting the fire for approximately an hour and a half, the fire department determined the best thing to do would be to bring in an excavator to collapse what was left of the structure.
This decision was made to control where the structure fell and for the safety of the firefighters. “It’s super unfortunate, but it’s one of those things that we would much rather see our house go than to have someone get hurt,” states Shannon.
Ryan Agrimson came with an excavator and knocked down what was remaining of the Meier’s home as Evan and Shannon watched it go down. The cause of the fire is undetermined.
Immediately following the fire, the family had support and necessities from family, friends and complete strangers.
“We stayed with both our families for the first week and they helped us out with our immediate stuff, and they have been just everything to us,” states Shannon, adding, “we have great friends, but they are so much more than friends – it’s a huge family” who were there for them in their time of need, as well.
Evan’s parents, Molli Kook and John Meier of Winona, Minn., along with his sister Maxie of Colorado and his brother Niall of Winona, Minn., and Shannon’s family, including parents Brett and Carol Hyter and her sister Carin Hyter of Omaha, Nebr., have “just kind of turned their lives off for a little bit,” says Shannon, so that they can be there for their family members.
The Meiers have a rental property in Rushford that was to be leased beginning January 1, 2017. After the fire, Evan and Shannon did not think it would be right for them to ask the renter to make other plans, so they were going to figure something else out for housing. That renter came to them and told them to move into the home and that she would make other arrangements. Another thoughtful act among many that the Meier family has experienced following the fire.
The Red Cross came right away to help and also to offer future services. “They were very helpful,” says Shannon, and adds, “their help was appreciated” by the family.
A close friend of the Meier’s, Abby Lee, began a gofundme account to help the family recover from the fire with a goal of $5,000. The amount raised as of January 9, 2017 was $9,800 (in just 12 days) which is just unbelievable, states Shannon.
“We have been so blessed by the generosity” of so many people, states Shannon. Whether it was their parents buying necessities and giving them furniture, or those who dropped off toys, clothes and more, the family has been moved by the giving nature of people.
Evan and Shannon have always participated in and supported benefits and fundraisers in the area, but to be on the receiving end is quite an experience and they have so many people to thank, notes Shannon.
Many friends and family members met at the Meier’s rental property the weekend following the fire to spruce up the place. “There was a small army” here to help, says Shannon and with Evan’s dad in charge, a lot got done, including painting, new carpeting on stairs, floor trim installed and more.
Shannon’s sister organized a chili feed fundraiser and approximately 40 people worked together to host the chili feed on Sunday, January 8, 2017 at the Rushford-Peterson elementary school. There were approximately 400 meals served at the fundraiser and Hyter states, “The support was amazing,” saying, “the benefit was truly a reflection of how caring the community is,” along with the surrounding area, including the school for letting them use the space for the chili feed.
Evan and Shannon’s faith in God has also helped get them through, as Shannon states, “God has a plan for everything,” and they will take it one day at a time. The Meier’s church, Root River Community Church of Rushford, has also been very helpful and supportive. “Our church family has been wonderful,” as they have brought meals, helped work on their rental home, and assisted with the chili feed fundraiser.
The Meier’s plan on rebuilding in the spring and have already started some “rough planning” for their new home.
This is not the first fire the family has experienced, as they lost a 110-foot pole barn full of machinery, equipment, tools and straw in May of 2016, which Evan has just finished rebuilding.
The kids are dealing with the loss of the home pretty well, states Shannon although 10-year-old Alaina probably understands the most of what has happened.
The Meier family is staying strong together, as Shannon says faith, family and friends are the most important things “and we have had all three” during this difficult time, states Shannon.