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Lightning caused a blaze Tuesday at the rural Sunburg home owned by Sue and Dan Kallevig, leaving behind little but a landscape of charred remains. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

Neighbor alerts Sunburg family to fire that destroyed their home

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

SUNBURG -- Around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, as an early spring thunderstorm hit northern Kandiyohi County, Sue Kallevig heard a loud pop in her rural Sunburg home.

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Since it wasn't a loud enough noise to cause great concern, she and her husband, Dan, stayed in bed.

About half an hour later their neighbor, Tad Boldan, was pounding on their back patio door, shouting that their house was on fire and that they should get out.

The Kallevigs quickly discovered the exterior of their front entrance was roaring with flames.

The fire was "right at the front door," Dan Kallevig said Tuesday morning, as he surveyed the remains of his home, near Norway Lake.

Because the fire hadn't penetrated the interior walls, the smoke detectors weren't triggered. But the rapidly moving fire, fueled by strong winds, presented an immediate danger.

The Kallevigs fled their home wearing pajamas and slippers. Sue grabbed her purse. That is all they have.

As they stood outside watching the flames grow, they considered running back in to grab some keepsakes.

"But common sense prevailed," said Dan, who is grateful he and his wife are safe.

"We have to keep in perspective that we were able to get out," he said. "Material possessions can be replaced."

For now, the family is staying with relatives in Belgrade. They intend to rebuild.

Lightning is blamed for the fire, New London Fire Chief Sig Holme said.

All that remains of the 6-year-old home are the stone pillars at the front entrance and a burned car in the attached garage. A nearby outbuilding was untouched.

Michelle Boldan said it was divine intervention that her husband woke up during the storm to discover the fire at their neighbor's house. "He can usually sleep through everything," she said.

Boldan said he woke up and noticed the electricity was off. While searching through the house for a clock to find the correct time he saw a "glow" through the window.

It was then he saw flames eating away at his neighbor's roof. With heavy rain pelting down, Boldan ran across the yard urgently calling out and pounding on the glass doors, trying to alert the Kallevigs.

"Intense" is the word Boldan used to describe the scenario.

"I just thank God that he had me up at that time," Boldan said. "And I thank God I have good neighbors, and they're alive and well today," he said. "I feel blessed."

The house was fully engulfed in flames by the time firefighters from four departments arrived around 2 p.m. Crews from New London, Sunburg, Brooten and Spicer were at the scene for about four hours.

Holme said the roof was gone and flames were shooting out the doors and windows when crews arrived. The only tactic was to "surround and drown" the house with water.

The Sunburg Fire Department was the first on scene. The firefighters were at the fire hall cleaning up from another house fire about five miles west of Sunburg. They'd been at that fire since 11:30 p.m., where an abandoned farmhouse owned by LeVerne Olson was destroyed.

Sunburg Fire Chief Mike Gjerde said that fire may also have been started by lightning or powerlines blown down in the storm.

Besides a propane tank that was near the burning house, Gjerde said crews also faced the danger of working near mature trees as lightning continuously flashed around them.

They fought that blaze in a torrent of rain, wind and hail. "It was a miserable night for fires," Gjerde said, adding at least everyone was safe.

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