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Large beams appeared to once support an open ceiling near a large fireplace in a home heavily damaged by fire early Sunday morning in the Town of St. Joseph. Margaret Ontl photo.

Pre-dawn fire destroys riverside home near Houlton

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HOULTON - Some 70 firefighters from six departments spent several hours early Sunday fighting a house fire in an isolated neighborhood overlooking the St. Croix River, just across from the City of Stillwater.

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The split-level home owned by Lawrence and Kathleen Horsch was unoccupied when the fire at 1404 Hilltop Ridge was reported at 4:28 a.m. Town of St. Joseph Fire Chief Ron Burton said someone from Stillwater spotted flames and reported the blaze.

Flames were through the roof when the first crew rolled up, Burton said.

Pumpers drafted water from a single 3,500-gallon drop tank, which was resupplied by tenders hauling water from a hydrant in Stillwater, said Burton.

St. Croix land records placed value of the home on the Horsches 3.5-acre lot at $331,000.

Firefighters were able to extinguish the fire, thought to have started on the first floor, and prevented its spread to the north end of the home. A number of personal items will probably be salvagable. But the home, which Burton guessed might be 25 years old, will probably have to be completely rebuilt.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, the chief said.

Burton said the Horsches do not live at the home year-round, rather, use it as a seasonal retreat.

The temperature was about zero at the time of the fire so freezing lines and the deep snow surrounding the fire scene were an inconvenience, but Burton said crews handled it well and there were no injuries.

Several area departments shifted volunteers and aparatus to neighboring communities to provide backup coverage. River Falls moved personnel to Hudson while Bayport moved a rig to the St. Joseph station.

At 6:43 a.m., Bayport firefighters were called out to extinguish a vehicle fire at 1377 Main St., Houlton. Burton said he and his department appreciated the teamwork.

Firefighters from Somerset, Hudson and Roberts assisted at the house fire.

Crews were provided with hot breakfast sandwiches and coffee, compliments of volunteers from the Red Cross St. Croix Valley chapter, according to volunteer spokesman Gene Sung.

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