The fight through a fire

The household of the Breien family burning to the ground at around 5:00 a.m. on Nov. 24 2017. The fire was in a Lake Elmo neighborhood called Discover Crossing, and was started by an outdoor grill that had been left on.

Photo submitted by Eddie Breien

The household of the Breien family burning to the ground at around 5:00 a.m. on Nov. 24 2017. The fire was in a Lake Elmo neighborhood called Discover Crossing, and was started by an outdoor grill that had been left on.

By Sierra Hippel, Stillwater Area High School

“I was Black Friday shopping and when I got back it was 3:30 a.m. I got out of the car, it smelt like bonfire, and then I went inside, not thinking much of it because it was Thanksgiving. So I went inside to the mudroom, I pet my dog, and he wagged his tail. Nothing even smelt in the inside, and everything was fine, so I just went to bed,” said junior Eddie Breien.

Little did Eddie know, that mudroom would be the starting place his house would catch fire and burn to the ground. Eddie and his mom Amy, dad Kris, little brothers Andrew age 13, Charlie age 11, and Michael age nine, along with his two dogs Juliet and Grizz were all asleep in their home in Lake Elmo Nov. 24 when they heard the loud ringing noise of an alarm at 4:20 a.m.

The noise blasted through his weary head, though Eddie continued to lay in bed as the alarm would go off often in their home. Eddie’s room is in the basement, while in the upstairs room, on the third level, Kris hassled with the keypad to try and get it off, not knowing the blazing fire that was beginning to engulf their household.

“The alarm is just going off again, mom or dad will shut it off soon,” thought Eddie while half awake in his bed.

On the third level, where Kris was, Amy was still with the three younger boys, while Kris had gone downstairs to find them a way out. She walked into Andrew’s room since she heard the commotion of Juliet running around. As she entered the room, she noticed it was hot, and then could see the terrifying sight of the red and orange blazing flames on the screens behind the window. She hurried to wake up the boys. All the sudden they heard the loud bang of the glass door by the grill exploding on the main level deck. The shards of glass from the door burst downstairs from the drastic force of the flames. The smoke began to race through the open door up the stairs. The power had cut out and the smoke began to rise and get thicker. It was as if they were stuck in a nightmare.

Meanwhile, Kris had ran down the stairs to find a way out for his family after realizing what was happening. He began to feel smoke invade his lungs. As Kris reached the front door he felt the handle. It was cool. As he opened the door, he had never felt so relieved to feel fresh cold air enter through his body and lungs.

Following Kris, Andrew and Michael somehow managed to get down the stairs, through the thick black smoke and out the front door while Amy was still trapped upstairs with Charlie. The unbearable heat was taking over their bodies. The darkness and smoke took over the sight of them and began to fill their lungs. Every breath was worse and worse. They were terrified and the thought of going down the stairs was horrific, not knowing where they were going or what may come. They began to think their last option was to jump off the third level deck.

“Amy you have to come down here,” Kris said.

“We can’t,” said Amy scarcely, choking on the vowel smoke with the black clouds all around her.

“Come down here right now, there’s no other way out!” he yelled.

Amy and Charlie began to work their way down the dark cloudy stairs. They made it to the bottom and ran out the front door with Kris, beyond relieved to breath in the fresh air and see their family together. The hair on their bodies partially cinched from the tremendous heat around them, and the younger boys coughing up the sickening soot from the build up of the thick, dark smoke. They were terrified, but alive.

I was Black Friday shopping and when I got back it was 3:30 a.m. I got out of the car, it smelt like bonfire, and then I went inside, not thinking much of it because it was Thanksgiving.”

— Eddie Breien

After a couple minutes, Eddie left his room in the basement and drowsily walked up the steps one by one with his flashlight since the darkness blocked his view. Eddie reached the main level and was confused as he met up with his dad and noticed the film of haze floating around him.

“Eddie thank god you’re home, get outside,” Kris said.

Eddie ran out the door and saw his family standing there stunned from what they had just endured. He was frightened, but thankful to see them all together.

Smoke, lots of smoke, was the main sight from the front of the house at this point. Since Eddie had been in the basement he had not known the extent of the fire.

“We’re safe, they’re gone,” said Kris.

“What do you mean?” asked Eddie.

The realization had hit Eddie as he thought about his dogs. In a state of panic he ran as fast as he could around the back of his burning house and saw the flames bursting out from the side. He had now realized this was way worse than just a load of smoke.

Focused, his head kept repeating, “Can I save the dogs. Can I do anything?”

He opened up the back door and looked in, panicking as there was no sign of them.

“Juliet, Grizz!” he yelled over and over again.

Eddie bolted as he still saw no sign of his dogs. He went back around to the front of the house, and as he approached the front door to try and look in for his dogs again he heard his Mom.

“Eddie!” she screamed in fear of her son’s life.

Eddie had never heard his Mom scream louder in his entire life. The fear in her scream was the type to send chills down the middle of your spine. The scream was so loud and boisterous that it had woke up some of the nearby neighbors who would soon come to help.

Outside, the family stared at their home, or what was left of it, slowly burning into nothing but shambles. Eddie was relieved to see the sight of his family, but was stuck in a state of confusion. Everything had happened so quickly right before his eyes. His house was a normal home, but now it resembled the view of nothing but a pile of wood, sticks and stones burning as if it were a giant bonfire. His dogs, belongings, memories and everything he and his family had owned was gone, burnt up, with no way of being stopped.

Moments after, neighbors approached and watched along with them as firefighters fought to put out the powerful flames. After about thirty minutes Eddie and his family went to the neighbors house to wait it out. The blaze of the fire was too large to be put out, but was able to be contained enough to prevent the other homes of setting fire as well.

Currently, Eddie and his family have been staying in a rental home as their house is being rebuilt. It has been said that the fire was started by the grill on the main level deck being left on. Reports of their house fire appeared on channels such as Kare 11, Fox 9, 5 Eyewitness News and more. The family still carries the fear from the tragedy, and the three younger brothers have symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Though, they are slowly beginning to move past it and are expected to move back into their home in Feb. 2019.

“A huge thing I’ve taken from this is the value of life, and how quickly it can be taken away along with everything you have. Every teenager has a sense of invincibility until you’re a little bit older….when you mature through life and become an adult is when that is taken away from you. For me, it was taken away that night. I think for my brothers as well that it was really a sense of that none of us are invincible, and that life can end very quickly when you’re not expecting it at all. Especially when you’re not sure if you’re going to make it out of a house alive,” said Eddie.

This story was originally published on The Pony Express on January 3, 2019.