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Kelly Elsner stands near his water truck. He and his eight employees worked through Tuesday saving Elsner’s business and home, then setting out through the rural neighborhood to help others. Sarah Smith | Forum News Service

Ragtag band of firefighters jumps into action

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PARK RAPIDS — Kelly Elsner found his second calling Tuesday night — amateur firefighter.

As fires closed in on his Hubbard County Road 111 home and well drilling business south of Park Rapids, Elsner called his employees back to work.

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"Come back as fast as you can," were his instructions.

As his employees and a water truck sprang into action, the evacuation order came in: Get out.

"I’m not leaving until my feet are on fire," Elsner recalled thinking.

He told emergency crews, "We can maintain it with these guys and this water."

The ragtag group saved his drilling yard and home, watering the roof and yard around the encroaching flames.

Elsner moved his equipment out to the closed highway and moved valuable items out of his house.

All the time they kept an eye on the large fuel tanks in the yard.

"We were very fortunate," Elsner said.

The Sebeka Fire Department by then had attacked the field northwest of the Elsner acreage, stopping the flames from that direction.

"They hung in here and helped us save our building site," Elsner said. Flames crept within 50 feet of his property.

Elsner then had an idea.

"Let’s drive around and see what we can do," he suggested to his band of firefighters.

First stop was the Terry Ristonen home, which they saved.

They then moved around to other homes in the rural neighborhood, joined by Dave Hacker of Backhoe Pete’s.

Brian Fix Erhardt praised Elsner and the others Wednesday.

"Thank God for Kelly Elsner and his crew… saved my brother’s home, but he lost all his farm equipment and his shop and trucks and cars," he said.

By Thursday, Elsner couldn’t remember which home was Erhardt’s, he’d been so busy helping his neighbors.

Elsner eventually lost 100 acres of forested land but considers himself lucky.

He also considers the Sebeka, Menahga and Park Rapids fire departments heroes.

He suggested contributions to those volunteer squads, led by his own gift.

He patted the side of his water truck fondly as if it were a prize stallion.

"We’re keeping the water trucks full at all times," he said, eying his smoldering property.

Article by Sarah Smith of Forum News Service

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