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Hudson firefighter Jay Penfield exits the Sake residence covered in cellulose insulation. Photo by Randy Hanson

Update: Boys' play sparks disaster

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Update: Boys' play sparks disaster
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Two boys using a magnesium stick and a knife to strike sparks started more of a fire than they intended to Thursday afternoon, June 4.


The sparks ignited a cluster of cottonwood seeds on a sidewalk next to the Ronald and Marian Sake residence at 1808 Willow Drive.

From there, the fire quickly spread to the dry grass in the Sakes' back yard, set a brush pile ablaze, exploded a five-gallon gas can, and continued on to the house.

An hour later, the split-level house that the Sakes have called home for many years stood in ruin.

Hudson Police Chief Marty Jensen said Tuesday that the 13- and 7-year-old boys who started the fire won't be charged with a crime.

"It wasn't arson. It wasn't intentional. They were just being kids, and being a little careless when they were doing it," said Jensen.

He indicated that a lawsuit will likely result from the fire, however.

"Obviously, it will be something that the Sakes and the parents of the (boys) will have to take care of," he said.

The police chief said cottonwood seeds covered much of the sidewalk and surrounding lawns when the boys were playing with the fire starter. The sidewalk runs mid-block between residential properties, connecting Willow and Chestnut drives, in the neighborhood northeast of Hudson High School.

Jensen said the boys tried to put out the fire and ran to get their father to help with the effort, too. They also banged on the front door of the house in an attempt to get anyone inside to come out.

Marian Sake was in the house, and eventually responded to the knocking by the boys and another neighbor, according to Fire Chief Jim Frye. Ronald Sake was said to be at a local store.

"The youths first tried to put out the fire by themselves. It turned into a disaster after that. You always need to call 911 first," Frye commented.

Jensen said the Hudson Fire Department was already rolling up to the scene by the time boys' father called 911.

Nick Reitano, whose parents' back yard abuts the Sakes' back yard, was the first to report the fire at 3:10 p.m. The eighth-grader noticed bushes bordering the Sakes' yard on fire.

Frye said the fire spread rapidly in the dry conditions, and that the gas can explosion increased its speed and intensity all the more.

Black smoke was rolling from the back of the residence when firefighters arrived. Shortly after, flames could be seen leaping high into the air from the rear of the attached two-car garage.

Half an hour into the firefighting effort, the roof of the garage had collapsed.

Firefighters would extinguish flames with a fire hose in one place, only to have them leap up in another spot minutes later.

They appeared to be battling flames inside the split-level house an hour into the effort.

"I would say it's totaled," Frye said of the residence the day after the fire. "But we saved a lot of their belongings, which were in the front half of the house."

The front part of the home is still standing.

Jensen said he understood that the Sakes, believed to be in their late 60s or early 70s, are staying with a son.

The Hudson Fire Department was assisted by the Roberts, St. Joseph, Lower St. Croix Valley and Bayport departments. River Falls firefighters stood by at the Hudson station in case another call came in while Hudson firefighters were busy battling the house fire.

Hudson firefighters were on the scene until 7:23 p.m.

Conditions were extremely dry in the Hudson area prior to the daylong rain that fell on Saturday.

Frye said the fire department's brush truck was at a grass fire at Cherry Circle and Fourth Street in North Hudson when the call came in for the Sake fire.

The department hadn't finished mopping up the Sake fire when it was dispatched to another grass fire at Daily Road and County A in the town of Hudson.

The conditions prompted Frye to impose a ban on outdoor burning on Friday. The ban was lifted following the weekend's rain.

Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.
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