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Minnesota family grateful despite losing home to fire

Todd and Shannon Wright and their children, Hailey, Maddie and Brayden, are grateful they have each other this holiday season. The Wrights are rebuilding after a bolt of lightning struck and destroyed their house in June. Special to The Forum

As the year comes to an end, many people tend to look back and take stock of what has happened over the last 12 months. For Todd and Shannon Wright, that trip down memory lane is an emotional one, as their family is working to rebuild after a tough year.

Around 8 a.m. on June 11, a bolt of lightning struck the Wrights' rural Nisswa home and burned it to the ground. Luckily, Todd, Shannon and their three children weren't home at the time. They were about 15 miles away at their newly purchased cabin on North Long Lake - a place they hadn't even planned to be the previous night.

"We thought, 'Well it's hot. Let's go to the cabin,' " Todd said.

"We almost waited until morning to go," Shannon added.

At the last second, they decided to bring their 11-year-old golden retriever, Nala, with them as well.

"It's crazy," Shannon said at the thought of leaving the house empty that night. "I thank God we weren't there."

The next morning, Shannon got a call from a neighbor, who asked where her family was right then.

"I told him we were at our cabin, and then that's when he told me, 'I'm so sorry, but your house is gone,'" she said.

The Wrights described their initial emotions as shock and not knowing what to expect.

"We came out to (Highway) 371," Todd said, "and as you go north, you can see across from Hole-in-the-Day Bay, all the way across to here, and that's where we could see the smoke just billowing up. And that's when it hit me — that's our house."

Because of the wooded area that shielded much of the house from neighbors, the fire burned for about two hours before the fire department was called. That meant the Wrights' house - which Shannon's dad and brother built 13 1/2 years ago - was gone.

"(It's) the most devastating thing we've ever been through. That's for sure," Shannon said.

The three things Shannon really hoped to try to salvage from the debris were her kids' baby books. As one of her daughters' rooms mostly just had smoke damage, her book was easy enough to find. The other two were tricky.

"You couldn't decipher anything that was in (my oldest daughter's) room," Shannon said. "But we dug and dug in her closet. And under all these clothes was her baby book. So I think the clothes kind of protected it."

Six-year-old Brayden's baby book proved even tougher though, as Shannon said she wasn't able to find any possessions of his at first. But a quick last-second look proved beneficial.

"Just before I'm going to leave his bedroom, in the middle of the room is this little circle, and I could see - it was burnt all around it - but it said 'baby book,'" Shannon said. "I could at least get a portion of stuff rewritten into a new book."

The Wrights are grateful that the Pillager Fire Department, who responded to the fire, went back to look for items after the flames were out and allowed the family to do the same. The department also gave the Wrights a $500 check later to help with costs.

That generosity was just the beginning of an outpouring of community support the Wrights received.

Thanks to close friends, they were able to stay at Madden's on Gull Lake for a couple nights after the fire, and their room was stocked with everything they needed.

Family and friends also helped occupy the Wright children in the aftermath and brought the family food, clothing and other essential items.

"Literally everything you can think of that we didn't even know we needed - even what Nala needed. They brought dog food," Shannon said. "It was so overwhelming, the support that we got."

Living Savior Lutheran Church stepped up in a big way too, as Shannon needed a new place for the daycare she had previously run out of her home.

"They opened the church to me for the summer and let me do daycare out of there, for which I'm so grateful," she said.

Three weeks later, she was back in business.

For the rest of the summer after the fire, the Wrights lived out of their two-bedroom cabin, which family members helped them fix up, as there was no running water when they bought it. When fall rolled around, they managed to find a rental property just a couple blocks away from their house. As a new house gets built, the rental property is home to the family and Shannon's daycare.

"My (daycare) families have been amazing," she said. "They didn't complain once about where they had to be shuffled. And they've given us so much stuff."

Accepting so much outside help wasn't initially easy for Todd and Shannon.

"We like to give, but we're not very good at receiving," Todd said, adding that they eventually realized people helping them was inevitable and that they would have reacted the same way had one of their friends or family members been in a similar situation.

The Wrights' insurance company played a big role in helping them get back on track as well.

"We had a check within four days for the house," Shannon said. "They've made it so easy on us."

As grateful as they are for all the community help, perhaps the most important thing the Wrights have to be thankful for this holiday season is simply that their family is still together.

"Nobody was hurt, and everybody's still here, and we're healthy," Shannon said. "I still don't know that I'll ever understand why we lost our home, but I'm super grateful. We all have each other."

A reminder from 6-year-old Brayden about the importance of family togetherness is helping Shannon get through the Christmas season, which is usually her favorite time of year.

"Decorating for Christmas brought in some emotions again. Decorating the tree was tough," she said. "I don't know if my son sensed it or what. He didn't see me crying, but ... he said, 'Mom, it's not about where we're at for Christmas as long as we have each other.' And then I lost it."

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