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Rural Hawick family who lost their home in New Year's blaze work to put the pieces back together

Katie Wendlandt, daughter of Tim and Lisa Wendlandt, on Monday looks through family photos salvaged from her home. The Wendlandt's rural Hawick residence was destroyed in a New Year's Eve fire that also claimed the family's pets. Only a handful of possessions have been recovered from the home. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange1 / 2
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Last year didn't end well for Tim and Lisa Wendlandt. Around 6:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve, Lisa Wendlandt came home to discover the family's rural Hawick home in a blaze. The fire quickly destroyed the house the couple had built 17 years ago.

Fire crews from New London, Spicer, Atwater and Paynesville fought the fire for about five hours in minus 10-degree weather but were unable to save the house, leaving the family homeless as midnight struck and 2010 began.

Other than a stack of Disney videos, one container of family photos and three pieces of furniture -- including a grandmother's baby crib and an old school desk -- the Wendlandt family lost everything.

Their two pet dogs and cat also perished in the fire.

Without a home, without clothes and without a kitchen table to share a meal around, the family has nevertheless found the support and generosity of family, friends, neighbors and church community.

"It's been overwhelming," said Lisa Wendlandt on Monday afternoon, while standing in a shed where the salvaged items were being stored. A second pile of scorched items they had hoped to save was being pitched in a large trash container that had just been delivered after the items were deemed too damaged.

Cards of support from other fire victims, offers of financial donations and an invitation to live in a "snowbird's" house that was empty for the winter, have moved the family to appreciate what they have -- life in a caring community.

"We're really lucky we live here," said Wendlandt. "We live in a fabulous community."

Wendlandt had been gone from home about an hour on New Year's Eve and returned to see smoke and fire. She suspects the fireplace and chimney were the cause. The fire is still under investigation and the state fire marshal is expected to be at the site today.

People started showing up immediately. "So many great neighbors helped," she said.

Not that the loss hasn't been painful.

Their 17-year-old daughter, Karli, lost the most. The New London-Spicer High School basketball and volleyball player's medals and sweatshirts from state tournaments were destroyed. Her basketball jersey, which she needs for upcoming games, was also burned in the fire.

Her coaches were making efforts to find replacements for the high school senior, said Wendlandt, amazed at the lengths people were going to in order to ease the grief that gripped the family in the days immediately following the fire.

"We bawled for three days. Now I'm done," she said. "We'll just move on."

The family, which includes two daughters still at home, Karli and Jenn, intends to rebuild on the same site. Elder daughter Katie recently moved out and is preparing for a fall wedding. Her wedding dress was not in the house.

Wendlandt said she and her husband are accepting the loss and are eager to make a new start. But they would rather have their old stuff.

A trip to Nordland Lutheran Church on Sunday turned up a welcome find.

Like most women, Wendlandt had left a container in the kitchen at a previous potluck or funeral. Finding the familiar item in the stack of left-behind kitchen ware was like finding an old friend and something that will be put in their new kitchen when they have a house again.

A fund for the Wendlandt family has been established at the Lake Region Bank in New London.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750