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Neighbor honored for quick thinking during St. Joe fire

From the left are Town of St. Joseph Fire Chief Ron Burton, citizenship award recipient Derek Nelson, town chairperson Theresa Johnson and Fire Captain Dave Milbrandt. Photo by Margaret A. Ontl

On Sept. 25 nearly six months after the event, Town of St. Joseph resident Derek Nelson was honored during St. Joseph's Fall Festival. Nelson received the citizenship award.

By all accounts the stars were aligned, karma was good and perhaps the "Lord" had a plan as well.

On March 31, Nelson had taken the day off work because it was his daughter's birthday. After delivering cupcakes to school, he decided to go back home before doing other errands when he saw what he thought was a puff of smoke coming from a neighbor's home. But he knew the dryer vent was in the same vicinity.

"There was this little puff of smoke which burst into flames just when I drove up to check on it," said Nelson. "I knew they were gone so I went home and called 911 immediately."

Nelson, who lived two houses away, went back to search for a water source but the outdoor faucets were still turned off. By this time the flames were licking the bottom of the eves on the garage.

"I found an eight-gallon Red Wing crock and start hauling water back and forth from my house," said Nelson. There are about 100 feet between the houses. "On the fourth trip the fire department showed up and the flames were right at the top of the garage."

It was the height of the grass fire season, so St. Joseph Fire Chief Ron Burton was already in the department's brush truck. He and Fire Captain Dave Milbrandt arrived shortly after a St. Croix County sheriff's deputy rolled onto the scene with a fire extinguisher.

"The flames were on the front porch and near the entry way," said Burton. "A whole series of events allowed this to be a happy ending. It was a log house, and the bottom line is they still have their house."

"The events just fell into place," said Nelson. "I was amazed how quickly it spread and I knew both of them were at work."

Thank goodness for cupcakes and a little girl's birthday.

"It was just the neighborly thing to do," said Nelson, after receiving his citizenship award.