UPDATE: Family of four speaks of watching home go up in flames
Tina Goss has her family and the clothes on her back.
That, along with the cellphone she used to report her house was on fire in the middle of the night.
"That's the only reason I still have a phone," the Maiden Rock-area woman said last week after the fire wiped out virtually everything the family of four had.
Ellsworth Fire Chief Brent Langer said crews were called just after midnight Monday, Feb. 12 to the two-story wood-framed home between Plum City and Ellsworth on Highway 10 in the town of Salem. The home was ablaze when firefighters arrived. Langer said the occupants told him the home was "fully engulfed within two minutes."
"They woke up because of the smell and the noise of the crackling," Langer said.
Goss said she and longtime partner Roger LaPorte got up, realized the house was on fire and yelled for their two children, Shyla, 16, and Ty, 13, to get out. She and the kids made it out, but LaPorte remained inside in a desperate attempt to control the growing blaze.
He eventually escaped through a window.
"Another 10 seconds, he wouldn't have even made it out the window," Goss said. "It was just unbelievable."
Smoke alarms were sounding, but Goss told family friend Lori Seipel that everything happened so fast; they left the house with the pajamas they were wearing. Shyla is a sophomore at Plum City High School, while Ty is in eighth grade at Plum City Middle School.
The home, located at W3701 Highway 10 at the bottom of what is known locally as the Wieser Hill, is a total loss, Seipel said. Langer confirmed, saying the second story and roof fell into the first story.
"Nothing is left of the upstairs," Seipel said. "Looking at the outside doesn't do it justice."
Goss didn't have time to put on a pair of shoes; instead of shoes, she saved a 100-pound family dog by pulling it out a bedroom window.
A second dog and a cat died in the fire. Goss said LaPorte sustained smoke inhalation that left him sick for 24 hours after the fire.
Goss described the chaotic rush:
LaPorte drove the kids to nearby Wieser Concrete while she waited with her dog in a car, the keys to which were consumed in the blaze. An electrical wire fell off the house while she waited for LaPorte to return.
LaPorte got back to shuttle Goss away and felt a jolt of electricity from the downed line as he picked up the dog off the ground.
The family gathered at the concrete facility "and watched our house burn," Goss said. The sound of windows popping from heat, she said, was "just sickening."
Seipel is organizing an effort to collect household items and money for the family, which is staying at a hotel.
"Nothing is salvageable," she said. "They need everything from cereal bowls to beds."
Goss said the community response over the ensuing days has been nothing short of a blessing.
"I've cried more times the last three days out of acts of kindness than I have in the last 10 years," she said. "Every time someone hands me something, I cry. It's just so touching.
"We are so thankful to be living in the community we do," she said.
Goss said the family had renters' insurance, which provided for them to spend last week at a hotel.
Anyone interested in donating items can call Seipel at 715-307-1121. A fund has been set up at Waumandee State Bank (308 Third Ave. W., Durand) to collect monetary donations. For those who wish to give money, the funds can be directed to the "LaPorte Family" account.
Langer said firefighters were on the scene until about 4:30 a.m. Temperatures at that time hovered around 0, which caused some of the valves to freeze on the trucks. The crews used 45,000 gallons of water to fight the blaze. Plum City Fire Department sent one tender to assist Ellsworth firefighters.
While the fire's cause remains under investigation, the residents suspect it may have been a pellet stove, though that cannot be confirmed at this time, Langer said.
"We honestly don't know" for sure, Goss said.