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Karl and Britni Lane pose with their children (from left) Willow, 1, Douglas, 8, Dominyck, 7, and Natalie, 2, in front of their burned rental house a few weeks after the Sept. 16 fire. (Photo by Micheal Foley)

Family escapes fire thanks to plan

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Family escapes fire thanks to plan
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

The Lane family lost just about everything in the early morning hours of Sept. 16, when a fire started in a bedroom basement quickly spread to other parts of the Town of Richmond rental house.


Luckily, all the family members were able to escape the heavy smoke and flames without injury.

The escape

Karl and Britni Lane were sound asleep when the fire started at about 1 a.m., along with their four children Douglas, 8; Dominyck, 7; Natalie, 2; and Willow, 1.

“Our son Douglas comes bursting through the door, turns the light on really quick and says, ‘Mom, there’s an emergency. There’s smoke all over the basement and my bed’s on fire,’” Karl said.

Karl said he intended to quickly put the fire out with a fire extinguisher, but quickly realized from the intense heat and heavy smoke that his extinguisher was no match for the already raging blaze.

“Once I got from the upstairs to the main floor, we still had one member of the family who wasn’t accounted for — our son Dominyck,” Karl said. “I actually ran right past him on the way down to the main floor while I was in panic mode. But once I opened the basement door to go down there, the heat and the smoke was so overpowering that my body instinctively moved backward. I nearly fell over into the kitchen counter.”

That’s when Karl called out for Dominyck and the boy responded saying, “Dad, I’m right next to you,” according to Karl.

Meanwhile, Britni — 20 weeks pregnant with the family’s fifth child — was still upstairs gathering her young girls for evacuation.

“We were all in our pajamas and stuff, and I didn’t realize that it was really bad,” Britni said. “I thought it was nothing, because the alarms hadn’t started going off upstairs, and I was still in a daze from waking up.”

Britni was gathering clothes, blankets and a cell phone to call the fire department, but Karl told her everyone had to leave immediately. They packed the children into their SUV and backed it to the end of the driveway to relative safety. Karl then used his cell phone to alert the fire department and first responders.

The aftermath

New Richmond Fire & Rescue Chief Jim VanderWyst was among the first to arrive and survey the scene before fire crews could get to work battling the blaze and smoke. By the time they were finished, the house, and most everything inside was lost to either fire damage, smoke damage or water damage.

“When I saw the fire from outside, I knew it was big, but I still thought the fire department would put it out and some of our stuff would still be salvageable,” Britni said. “It wasn’t until after the fact when they told us that everything was gone that it really started to have an impact.”

After Karl and Britni took the children to a relative’s house in River Falls at about 3 a.m., they stayed up the rest of the night gathering the bare necessities to move on with their lives. Karl was left wearing pajama bottoms and an ill-fitting shirt borrowed from his wife. Britni didn’t have any footwear.

“The next morning when we walked into Walmart and Britni didn’t have any shoes on she was saying under her breath, ‘Please don’t kick us out. Please don’t kick us out,’” Karl said. “That’s when I realized, oh crap, we lost it all.”

Though Karl was still able to work, Britni’s income was lost along with all her sewing machines and supplies she used for her home-based business.

The next three nights the American Red Cross helped the family by paying for their hotel stay until they were able to find an apartment.

The family also got some help from the members of New Richmond VFW Post 10818 a week after the fire.

“Our family and friends and their friends came together rather quickly, and we received an overwhelming amount of support in the first week and a half,” Britni said. “Now most of our immediate needs are met.”

At this point, Karl and Britni said they don’t require additional assistance.

“We don’t want to take more than we need,” Karl said. “I’m a disabled veteran, and if you want to help us, go help some veterans.”

The Lanes now live in a rental in River Falls, and though they love the community they say it’s still difficult even to drive toward New Richmond.

“When you hit that last traffic circle coming out of Roberts, it’s like getting punched in the gut,” Karl said.

What’s your fire plan?

The fact that the entire family escaped the fire was a full family effort that began years ago when the Karl and Britni established a family fire plan, posted it on the refrigerator door, and even practiced every few months.

“They were so young that I didn’t realize that it would make as big of an impact as it did,” Britni said. “But just having a plan for them and knowing what to do made a difference.”

Eight-year-old Douglas is autistic, and he ended up being the hero that night by waking up Britni and Karl, despite his difficulties with communication. He was able to clearly articulate that there was an emergency and follow the fire plan, which included alerting everyone, evacuating and meeting at the mailbox.

“They had the idea in their head that they were coming up to get us all and get out safely, and when Karl told them to get into the Suburban, they informed him that the plan was to go down to the mailbox,” Britni said.

VanderWyst suggests that every family teach their children fire safety in the home and ensure all smoke detectors are working properly.

“Teach your children the plan, and if it’s a second story room, get a rope ladder,” VanderWyst said. “There should always be two ways out of every room, and it should be practiced, not just talked about.”

Micheal Foley
Micheal Foley worked at RiverTown Multimedia from July 2013 to June 2015 as editor at the New Richmond News. 
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