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Brimson community rallies around fire victim

Julie Amidon lost her home and belongings to a fire in April. This Saturday, Jody and Gary Hepola, owners of Hugo’s Bar in Brimson, will host a benefit for her. Photo courtesy of Jody Hepola.

At about 11 p.m. on April 28, Julie Amidon was already down for the night in her little house near Brimson when she heard a small popping noise from the other room. She contemplated going back to sleep because her cats hadn’t stirred, which they always do when there is any type of commotion in the house.

Still, she climbed out of bed to check on the woodstove. She walked into the living room and witnessed a terrifying sight -- flames consuming her living room wall. Thinking quickly, she ran to the home’s porch and grabbed a fire extinguisher, but in just seconds it was too late, flames had engulfed the room.

“All hell broke loose,” Amidon said. “That’s how fast it went. I couldn’t go in after anything.”

The fire, aided by wind gusts up to 60 mph, quickly tore through her house, destroying everything she owned, save the van in which she escaped with her dog. Her four cats perished in the fire.

When Jody Hepola heard about the fire the next day, she immediately began formulating a plan to help her neighbor. Hepola and her husband Gary own nearby Hugo’s Bar, an establishment that serves as a kind of community center in the sparsely populated areas surrounding the town of Brimson, about 30 miles northwest of Two Harbors.

“We started collecting two days after the fire,” Hepola said.

Utilizing social media and word of mouth, the Hepolas connected Amidon with those willing to donate. On Wednesday, someone offered a mobile home. With help from many friends and neighbors, Amidon installed the mobile home on her property; in just 10 days it was furnished with the necessities.

“I’m surprised how quickly it happened,” Hepola said. “That really did kind of blow my mind.”

The first thing that came to mind when Amidon spoke to the Lake County News-Chroncle about the fire isn’t a list of things she lost -- her home, garage, beloved pets and 20 years’ worth of possessions. And she says she doesn’t lament that, in the 1980s, the woodstove she used to heat her house made the building uninsurable and she hasn’t had insurance since. She doesn’t complain about the painful blisters on her feet and back caused by the burning plastic that fell on her when she fled the house. Instead, she talks about how grateful and lucky she is.

“People have been so awesome,” Amidon said. “I’m absolutely overwhelmed.”

She said she is fortunate that her neighbors were home to dial 911 and that the firefighters arrived quickly, so that the fire didn’t spread to the white pines surrounding her property. She said she is lucky it was a “clean burn” so that there was less debris to clear. But mostly, she said, she’s grateful for the community that rallied around her to make the life-altering event a little less painful.

“They helped because of Jody’s efforts,” she said. “I made a lot of new friends … people who I’ve seen around the neighborhood but never talked to.”

Each gesture has meant a lot. Amidon’s hair was singed in the fire, so Hepola brought her to town and paid for a new haircut -- the first professional cut she’d had in 18 years.

“That’s the best 20 dollars we’ve ever spent,” Hepola said.

Amidon has a temporary home and is hooked up to electricity, but there is much more to be done. On top of her list is connecting the mobile home to water and septic, and finding a heat source. Then, she said she’d like to begin rebuilding what she lost, including a garage and a new home.

To help her, the owners of Hugo’s Bar are hosting a benefit on Saturday. There will be a silent auction beginning at 2 p.m., with and a spaghetti feed from 4-7 p.m. Everything for the event has been donated, so 100 percent of the proceeds will go to Amidon, Hepola said.

“We’ll always come together when somebody is need,” she said.

If you go

What: Benefit for Julie Amidon of Ault Township who lost her home in a fire

Where: Hugo’s Bar, 1898 Hwy. 44, Brimson

When: Saturday, June 7. Silent auction begins at 2 p.m., with a spaghetti dinner, 4-7 p.m.

Tickets: Dinner is $8, $4 for kids under 12

On Friday, June 6 at 5 p.m., volunteers are needed to help set up for the benefit.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
(218) 834-2141