How fire preparation saved a Holmen family

Holmen community rallies around family who lost their home to a fire; fire chief offers tips for homeowners to stay safe
Holmen fire Jan. 10, 2021

Holmen, Wis. (WKBT) – Firefighters in our area have responded to six fires just since the end of December. Fires can happen at any time. Winter usually means firefighters are busy.

“It’s dryer air, people are habiting inside,” Chief Buck Manley said, of the Holmen Area Fire Department.  

Area firefighters responded to several fires in the past two weeks. One in Onalaska, one in Holmen, and two in La Crosse. One of which claimed a life this week. Manley recommends people keep things three feet away from space heaters, limit the electronics plugged into outlets, and clean chimneys.

Other things he recommends include, installing carbon monoxide alarms, sleeping with the door closed to limit smoke if a fire starts. Homeowners should not leave candles unattended, clean and inspect washers and dryers, and check batteries in smoke detectors frequently.

Char Gray and her family have lived in Holmen for about 20 years.

“Great community to live in,” Gray said.

The early morning of Jan. 10 took a big piece of their lives away.

Holmen Fire Jan. 10, 2021

Flames engulf Gray’s home as firefighters battle the intense heat on Sunset Drive in Holmen on Jan. 10, 2021. 
(Photo by Holmen Area Fire Dept.)

“I had just put in the last load of laundry into the washer,” Gray said. “It hadn’t spun so I respun it.”

Shortly after she left the room the fire alarm went off.

Holmen Fire Jan. 10, 2021

Holmen firefighters use the latter truck to spray water on the Gray family’s home on Sunset Drive in Holmen on Jan. 10, 2021. 
(Photo by Holmen Area Fire Dept.)

“Came out and there was water on the floor and smoke in the air,” she said.

This fire did not happen during the day.

“This particular call came in about midnight,” Manley said.

It was too big for Holmen firefighters to handle.

Holmen fire Jan. 10, 2021

Smoke fills the air after a fire destroys the Gray family’s home. Firefighters from 23 units responded early Jan. 10, 2021. (Photo from Gray family)

“We had La Crosse fire, Onalaska fire, all the surrounding departments, West Salem, Farmington…” Manley said.

The home could not be saved, however, smoke alarms helped Gray and her family get out safely.

“My husband was religious with changing the batteries,” she said. “It’s very very important.”

Holmen fire Jan. 10, 2021

Char Gray’s car remains parked in her driveway after it was destroyed by the fire on Jan. 10, 2021.

Gray’s neighbors in the community are raising money for her family through Holmen Cares on social media.

The Gray family of Holmen are in our hearts today. An early morning house fire destroyed their home, but thankfully all…

Posted by Holmen Cares on Sunday, January 10, 2021

“An incredible outpouring of support, love, concern, generosity, I think everything I have on is donated.”

The Gray family has not been able to locate their cat. He is all black and his name is Onyx. Please be on the lookout. I’m hoping to have a picture to post soon. Thank you! Carrie

Posted by Holmen Cares on Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Gray said the things she lost are only stuff.

Holmen fire Jan. 10, 2021

Danger tape surrounds the Gray family’s home following the fire on Jan. 10, 2021.

“We all got out with our lives and we’re thankful, we’re grateful,” Gray said.

The heart of small communities shows up greater than their population on a map. Manley said he received calls from people in recent days who want to help.

We spoke with a family friend of the Grays this evening, the family is staying with neighbors till things get figured…

Posted by Holmen Cares on Tuesday, January 12, 2021

“People are genuinely concerned about people that they have never known,” Manley said.

Quality over quantity is why people chose this place as home.

“With all the craziness that’s going on in the world, it’s nice to see normalcy and support, and love and care. We see that here for sure,” Gray said. “Be thankful for what you have.”

Manley said families should create a fire safety plan.