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Family grateful things were not a lot worse in Milan, Minn., farm blaze

Submitted A photo posted on the Easy Bean farm Facebook page shows some of the damage from Monday's fire. The first destroyed Malena Handeen's art studio along with a granary, tractor and pickup truck. Two greenhouses were damaged.

MILAN -- Cleanup is underway at Easy Bean farm east of Milan, where a fast-moving grass fire Monday destroyed an art studio and its contents, a granary holding farming equipment, a pickup truck and tractor, and damaged two greenhouses and other equipment.

The fire also destroyed a vacant house, two sheds and numerous older-model vehicles, tanks and other items on an adjoining property.

The actions of rural mail carrier Paul Belseth, Milan's former fire chief, are credited with saving the home of Malena Handeen and Mike Jacobs, and their children, Hazel and Arlo.

The fire was spreading from the granary toward the home when Belseth, who was investigating after spotting smoke from the fire three miles away, called dispatch around 11:15 a.m. and conveyed the urgency of the situation.

"Lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time,'' he said.

Embers reached leaves on the sill of an open window on a child's upstairs bedroom. The fire charred bedding and melted a doll's face in the bedroom, but was discovered and extinguished by Malena Handeen before it could spread.

The couple was returning from the Twin Cities when they saw the black smoke and realized their farm place was on fire.

"My heart was racing.'' I felt sure our house was gone,'' Jacobs said.

Despite the damage, Jacobs said the farming operation should remain on schedule. The two greenhouses damaged in the fire will be quickly repaired and were not holding seedlings. The Easy Barn farm raises vegetables as a community supported agriculture venture.

Along with saving the house, firefighters kept the fire from spreading to a barn and machine building. The building held much of the farm equipment.

The greatest loss is Handeen's art studio, where many of her original works, prints, supplies, tools and musical instruments were lost.

The fire appears to have started in a ditch south of the two properties and was driven toward the properties by strong winds.

Milan Fire Chief Ted Ziemann said the cause is still under investigation, but he suspects a discarded cigarette could have been the cause.

An estimated 70 firefighters from the Milan, Watson, Appleton and Montevideo fire departments responded to the scene.

Jacobs said friends and family plan to bring heavy equipment to help with the cleanup.

An account has been established at the Co-op Credit Union, 2407 Highway 7 East, PO Box 447, Montevideo, 56265, to help the couple with their financial losses. Photos from the fire are posted on the Easy Bean farm's Facebook page.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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