Church congregation rallying to help victims of Howard Lake fire

Church, houses damaged by Howard Lake fire

Church, houses damaged by Howard Lake fire

Community members are coming together to help those impacted by a weekend fire in Wright County.

Sunday evening, a fire damaged two homes and a church in Howard Lake.

While the fire department continues to investigate the cause of the fire, officials say burning embers from the fire landed on the steeple of St. James Lutheran Church and caught fire.

“To see the steeple on fire, for a moment my heart sunk — I thought to myself we’ve seen churches burn down — here goes one,” pastor Mark Loder said.

Loder watched as firefighters stopped the flames from spreading beyond the steeple. Then, he noticed two homes down the block from the church were burning.

“You don’t know what you’ll do in a situation like that; your brain starts to take over, you just do what you need to do,” Richard Block, one of the victims of the fire, said.

Block believes the fire may have started somewhere near his garage before spreading to his home and his neighbor’s house.

“I did hear her chihuahua barking … then it kicked in; she’s not even home,” Block said.

With Block’s neighbor gone, he jumped into action and, with help from a police officer, freed the neighbor’s dogs from their kennels as the fire spread.

While his home was gutted in the fire, Block said he’s thankful his family of eight, their pets, and the neighbor’s animals were all saved.

“There’s nothing left, nothing we can salvage,” Block said.

Even the shoes he’s now wearing were given by someone who stopped to help. But thanks to the St. James congregation, there’s more help coming.

“Even in the midst of this chaos, I thought let’s do a prayer of service and thanksgiving, give prayer and praise no loss of life, and the many blessings that God will put out,” Loder said.

Loder said his congregation is leading a clothing and toy drive for the families who lost their homes. The church plans to collect some items at a Monday night service, but Loder added that anyone interested in helping can send him a message on Facebook.

In the aftermath of such a difficult situation, news of that effort is bringing comfort to Block and his family.

“It’s amazing; it’s nice to see the community come together when you really need it,” Block said.