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Flash of lightning, and Belgrade, Minn., family loses home, possessions

A fire apparently triggered by lightning July 25 left these charred remains of Jeff and Connie Oliver’s home west of Belgrade. The family lost all possessions in the blaze. Submitted

BELGRADE - A rural Belgrade family has lost their home and possessions to fire.

"To lose everything over a flash of lighting like that, it's crazy,'' Connie Oliver said of the blaze that destroyed the house she has called home the past 24 years.

Lightning is believed to be the cause of the fire that destroyed the home west of Belgrade on the night of July 25. Connie, her husband, Jeff, and two pet puppies were in their camper trailer on Lake Ripley in Litchfield the night of the blaze. Jeff had reached the trailer after his shift at the AMPI plant in Paynesville.

A 1 a.m. phone call from a neighbor alerted the Olivers to the fire. They arrived an hour or so later to find Belgrade firefighters on site and the charred remains of their home.

Two kittens and an older cat recently adopted by one of the Olivers' daughter had been in the house. All three escaped, but the older cat has suffered burns.

Connie Oliver said investigators believe that lightning struck a tree near the house, followed its roots and ignited the blaze that spread to the home. A neighbor apparently smelled the fire, drove the half-mile distance to confirm her fears and called 911 when she saw the house in flames.

Oliver's youngest daughter, BRittany, lives at home, but was working that night..

Connie and Jeff Oliver celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary July 1, but the remainder of the month has brought only a string of challenges for them.

Connie Oliver said her uncle recently died, and they were staying in Litchfield to be near family in anticipation of the funeral. On the day before the fire, Connie Oliver had undergone surgery that was not successful and will need to be repeated.

The home was insured, and the Olivers plan to rebuild on site. A garage suffered some heat damage. A nearby barn remains on site.

The Olivers are currently staying at the site in their camper.

Connie Oliver said they are working now to get back on their feet and are touched by the kindness that has been shown them. "Amazing neighbors, family members, strangers we don't even know coming in offering to help,'' she said.

Contributions to assist them can be sent in their name to the Central Minnesota Credit Union of Belgrade, 218 Wells Street, Belgrade, MN 56312.

Editor's note: BRittany is the correct spelling for the Olivers' youngest daughter.

Tom Cherveny

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

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