‘It could have been a lot worse’: Elk River man awoken by smoke survives house fire that decimated all but bedroom, decorative brick

by Jim Boyle


An Elk River man says he is thankful to be alive after fire decimated almost his entire home except for the bedroom where he had been sleeping when the blaze erupted.

Elk River Police and Fire were dispatched at 4:28 a.m. Tuesday, April 12, to the house fire at 13981 193rd Ave. after Nick Mooney, 34, climbed out of his bedroom window with his two Chihuahuas and called 911.

He had been asleep when he awoke to the smell of smoke.

An Elk River police officer arrived on the scene to find the front of the house with heavy smoke and flames erupting from the front door. The officer confirmed the only occupants were the 911 caller and his two dogs. Mooney advised he police he was OK but was coughing heavily. He was treated with oxygen by the Elk River Ambulance crew, according to the police report.

“Unfortunately, the majority of the house was on fire upon our arrival and 90-plus percent of the house was a complete loss,” Elk River Fire Chief Mark Dickinson said. “It was very fortunate that the resident was able to escape with only minor smoke inhalation.”

Mooney said he was asleep when he suddenly awoke to the smell of smoke, rolled out of bed onto the floor, and turned the bedroom light on. Even with the light, he was unable to see very well with the smoke, he told authorities.

“At that point he made some great decisions,” Dickinson said. “First, he did not open the bedroom door, which had a lot of heat since the rest of the house was engulfed in flames and, second, he escaped out the bedroom window with his two dogs.

“He was extremely lucky to have woken up from the smell of smoke since most people are overcome from the smoke while they are asleep, or if they get out of bed and stand up instead of rolling to the floor.”

Dickinson said this is another reason it is extremely important to have working smoke detectors in homes to alert the occupants early on.

“Fire doubles in size every minute. This means we only have a few minutes to get out while there is a fire,” Dickinson said. “This is another reason we tell people to ‘get out and stay out, do not go back in for your personal items. Those can be replaced, you cannot.’ ”

The Big Lake Fire Department assisted early on providing a water tender for water supply through the city’s mutual-aid agreement. Elk River Fire was on the scene until 8 a.m. Elk River Fire was called back to the home in the early evening when the fire rekindled.

Dickinson said the fire remains under investigation.

The master bedroom was hardly touched by fire. Mooney was able to retrieve clothes from his bedroom on Wednesday. In fact, the clothes that hung in his closet had remained dry.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Mooney said, acknowledging he could have died in the blaze.

He hopes to rebuild the home that was built by his grandfather in the late 1980s. He was a bricklayer, and the home features his handiwork, including a brick wall that serves as a retaining wall. Mooney hopes to salvage that brick wall when the home is rebuilt.

He and his dogs, Moose and Prince, are staying with his parents right now, but he hopes to secure lodging close by as he has three geese that he cares for on the three-acre site.

“We will rebuild the whole thing, but we plan to keep the wall,” he said.

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