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Community rises after Hay Creek fire

Crews fought the blaze for approximately six hours before getting called back in the early hours of Sept. 20 has flames rekindled. Photo by Sharon Duden1 / 5
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Firefighters work to control the flames. Photo by Sharon Duden3 / 5
Goodhue, Red Wing and Zumbrota fire departments responded to a fire at the Hay Creek home of Jim Nelson and Nancy Shoemake on Sept. 19. Photo by Sharon Duden 4 / 5
Red Wing Shoe staff donated new shoes and socks to Jim Nelson and Nancy Shoemake after they lost their belongings in a house fire. Pictured are: Shoemake, left, Missy Diercks of Red Wing Shoe, Nelson and Shoemake's sister Judy McCaffery of New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Nancy Shoemake5 / 5

In the days following a devastating house fire, Jim Nelson and Nancy Shoemake were reminded why they chose the Red Wing area as the location to build their dream home.

"It's the people," Nelson said. "The people are good and honest. This is a community."

On Sept. 19 in the late afternoon, a fire began in Jim and Nancy's home, which lies 150 feet above Highway 58 in Hay Creek Township. At home when the blaze began, Jim quickly crawled into the home to pull their two beloved Yorkshire terriers to safety as first responders arrived. Goodhue Fire Department was on the scene first, joined shortly after with backup from Red Wing and Zumbrota crews.

"I had no comprehension of what I saw," Nancy said of seeing over a dozen fire trucks, 40 firefighters and her home in flames as she returned home from work in the Twin Cities.

Shocked with the tragedy playing out before their eyes, Jim and Nancy said the community stepped up in ways they could have never imagined.

Dressen's Salon served hamburgers, fries and drinks to firefighters throughout the night as they fought the flames. A neighbor's post to Facebook caught the eye of Red Wing Shoe employees. Within hours, Jim and Nancy were extended an invitation to browse the shoe store on Main Street for new shoes and socks, free of charge. Jodie Alper's fifth-grade class in Goodhue sent cards of encouragement. Jim and Nancy's congregation at First Covenant Church have provided gift cards, money and around-the-clock support.

"It's such a humbling and vulnerable experience, and yet I am just in awe of the love," Nancy said.

In the aftermath of the fire, Jim and Nancy have lost all of their belongings, but have gained an immeasurable sense of community.

"We don't even begin to know how to show our gratitude," Jim said. "Everybody has given from their heart and blessed us."