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House fire claims the lives of 2 young girls, Bemidji community rallies to support family

Around 6:12 a.m. on Dec. 23, the Beltrami County dispatch center received a call of a residential fire in the 9000 block of Pony Lake Road NW in Liberty Township. Initial reports indicated that two children in the residence were unaccounted for and were possibly trapped in an upstairs bedroom.

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Charred debris is all that remains of a home on Pony Lake Road on Friday, Dec. 24, 2021, after a fire broke out there on Thursday morning. Contributed
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LIBERTY TOWNSHIP -- Tragedy struck ahead of Christmas in Bemidji as the lives of two young girls were claimed by fire on Thursday morning.

Around 6:12 a.m. on Dec. 23, the Beltrami County dispatch center received a call of a residential fire in the 9000 block of Pony Lake Road NW in Liberty Township. Initial reports indicated that two children in the residence were unaccounted for and were possibly trapped in an upstairs bedroom.

The house, located around 13 miles north of Bemidji, was being rented by Kathy Elton.

The Seeyle sisters AceLynn, 6, and RaeLynn, 5, were spending the night with Elton, who is fondly referred to as the girls’ “hand-picked grandma,” so their mother, Amber Kramer, could wrap presents and do some last-minute Christmas preparations.

Elton’s daughter, Kallie Castonguay, told the Pioneer that Elton woke up to the smell of burning rubber.

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“So she tried to put it out and ran to get help from another tenant to see what was smelling,” Castonguay said. “By the time she got back to the source it was engulfed in flames.”

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Seeyle sisters AceLynn, 6, and RaeLynn, 5, died in a house fire on Dec. 23, 2021, in Liberty Township around 13 miles north of Bemidji. Contributed

When emergency personnel arrived, they found the second floor of the two-story building fully engulfed in flames. Bemidji Fire Chief Justin Sherwood said firefighters located the bedroom window and attempted a rescue but were unsuccessful.

At 10:45 a.m., the sheriff's office announced that emergency personnel continued to search for possible victims at the scene. An update shortly after 1 p.m. said two bodies were recovered from the fire. The victims were transported to the medical examiner’s office for autopsy and identification.

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Local emergency personnel responded to a house fire early Thursday morning, Dec. 23, 2021, in the 9000 block of Pony Lake Road NW in Liberty Township, located about 13 miles northwest of Bemidji. (Courtesy / Bemidji Fire Department)

There were 45 firefighters working to put out the fire with 16 pieces of equipment, including members of the Bemidji, Shevlin, Solway and Blackduck fire departments. Bemidji Ambulance Service and Minnesota State Patrol also responded to the scene.

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Sherwood said that firefighters were at the scene for more than eight hours and the house was deemed a total loss. No firefighter injuries were reported, but one adult female suffered injuries and was transported to the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.

Castonguay confirmed that Elton had tried to reenter the house to get the girls and suffered smoke inhalation in the process.

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Charred remains are pictured from inside a home on Pony Lake Road on Friday, Dec. 24, 2021, after a fire broke out there on Thursday morning. Contributed

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families during this difficult time," Sheriff Ernie Beitel said in a release.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the sheriff’s office, the Minnesota Fire Marshal's Office and Bemidji Fire Department.

"A special thank you to Heroes Rise Coffee Company and area residents for supplying food, water and coffee to our responders," Sherwood said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all involved in today’s tragic event."

Community support

Within hours of the news breaking, the community rallied to support the families affected by the tragedy.

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Castonguay started a GoFundMe to help raise money for Elton to replace some of her belongings after losing everything in the fire.

“As you may have heard, my mother who just lost her oldest child (right before Thanksgiving), lost her home to a tragic fire,” the GoFundMe reads. “She has lost everything, purse, belongings, loved ones, animals and so much more.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, just over $10,119 had been donated of the $20,000 goal.

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Charred debris is all that remains of a home on Pony Lake Road on Friday, Dec. 24, 2021, after a fire broke out there on Thursday morning. Contributed

Kayla Stellick, a close family friend, started a separate GoFundMe to raise money to cover funeral expenses for AceLynn and RaeLynn. By Tuesday afternoon $32,200 had been donated.

“As you can imagine, the family of these girls are heartbroken,” the GoFundMe said. “These girls meant everything to Amber. She loved them so much. After having three boys, she wanted a little girl so bad, then she was blessed with two of them. Losing her babies is extremely devastating to her and (everyone) who knew and loved these girls.

“We are setting up this GoFundMe page to raise money to help with funeral costs, and other costs as the mother is not able to return to work right away, as she just lost her two kids. She has three other kids that she needs to be there for and take care of them. Donations and prayers will be greatly appreciated as we try to wrap our heads around losing these special, beautiful little girls.”

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The charred remains of a home on Pony Lake Road are pictured on Friday, Dec. 24, 2021, after a fire broke out there on Thursday morning. Contributed

Kramer clarified that she is taking time off right now in light of the incident, but does have a full-time job to return to as she’s able.

Castonguay said that in their minds they are all family and that it has never mattered to them whether they were blood-related or not.

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Seeyle sisters AceLynn, 6, and RaeLynn, 5, died in a house fire on Dec. 23, 2021, in Liberty Township around 13 miles north of Bemidji. Contributed

“It is so hard,” Castonguay said.

Both Kramer and Elton want to support each other following the tragedy.

“Amber says ‘I don't want your mom having to take on so much pain and do too much at the funeral,’ my mom says ‘I need to be strong for Amber and not have her do this alone, I'm her only mom,’” Castonguay said.

Related Topics: FIRESBEMIDJI NEWSLETTER
Annalise is the editor and a photographer at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is a Mass Communication graduate from Bemidji State University. Her favorite pastime is exploring the great outdoors and capturing its natural beauty on camera. Contact Annalise at (218) 333-9796, (218) 358-1990 or abraught@bemidjipioneer.com.
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