UPDATE 2: Tuesday night fire destroys River Falls' Kennedy Street home
A single-family home on Kennedy Street on River Falls' southwest side was left burned and uninhabitable, according to River Falls Fire Chief Scott Nelson. Fire officials also confirmed that property owners and Dan and Sandra Waletzko escaped their residence at 322 Kennedy St. without injury, later declining help from the Red Cross to stay with nearby family.
Firefighters battled what proved to be a very difficult blaze from 6 p.m. to almost 10 p.m. They returned to put out hot spots inside the house at 1 a.m. The family who resides there escaped without injury.
Past news stories indicate Dan Waletzko is the UW-River Falls greenhouse and field plot manager.
Nelson said Wednesday afternoon that his department and the homeowners' insurance company are still trying to determine what caused the blaze. Nelson admitted that at this time, that cause is "pretty puzzling." He did, however, rule out arson.
Nelson said the fully engulfted house fire was hard to put out because wind was pushing flames back into the house and also because firefighters couldn't reach a natural gas shutoff value under a backyard deck.
The gas, said Nelson, was acutally feeding the house fire. After the deck had collapsed, firefighters reached and shut off the gas.
Besides gas and wind, Nelson said the fire caused a few rounds of ammunition in the attached garage to go off.
"A few shells popped," he said.
Nelson said none of the adjoining houses on Kennedy Street were harmed.
He added that, because of extensive structural damage, firefighters weren't allowed inside the house to douse buried embers.
Therefore, it was expected that the fire could rekindle as it did after midnight. Firefighters returned to douse the hot spots for another 45 minutes.
Nelson said the house, which has a walk-in basement, and everything inside was deemed a total loss.
The River Falls Fire Department was assisted by the Ellsworth Fire Department, which stood-by at the Second Street station and later was summoned to a call of smoke in the basement of UW-River Falls' Prucha Hall.
A man who was visiting with friends on a deck on the south side of Cemetery Road said he thought someone had a campfire in their backyard fire pit on Kennedy Street until he saw flames rising higher than the house.
His friend called for help while he ran north through the St. Bridget Cemetery to get a closer look.
The entire south side of the home was a wall of flames and several small explosions could be heard from a backyard shed before firefighters arrived and fought their way to the back of the house to cool the fire.
River Falls firefighters tapped two hydrants supplying several hand-lines and brought in their ladder truck to hit the flames from above.
Early Wednesday morning, a small plume of smoke could be seen in charred remains of the living room but fire appeared to have burned through the main living area from basement to roof.
Photos from an observer can be found on Facebook