Small Minnesota Town Mourns Deaths of 10 in New Year’s Fire

Associated Press

A community grieved Monday over the deaths of 10 people in a fire whose cause investigators said may never be known.

A mother who lost four children in the blaze remained hospitalized Monday after collapsing on hearing of the deaths, and an elementary school called on a crisis intervention team to counsel children who lost five classmates.

“I have a suspicion we may never be able to determine the source of this fire,” said Elmer Baltes, a deputy state fire marshal, as he surveyed the smoldering ruins of the home that caught fire early Sunday, killing eight children and two adults. “The extent of the fire makes it very difficult.”

Arson has been ruled out, and a fuel oil space heater appeared to have been turned off, Baltes said, but a wood-burning stove, electrical problems, smoking material, a Christmas tree and children playing with matches all were being investigated as possible sources of the fire.


Remer Fire Chief Leo Renn said three walls and the roof of the two-story house already had collapsed when firefighters in the north-central Minnesota town of about 400 people arrived.

Nancy Watson, who returned home from celebrating her 32nd birthday with her husband, John, to find her house in ashes, became hysterical and was hospitalized.

Killed were the Watson’s four children, Jenny, 14, Samantha, 11, Edward, 9, and William, 8; Nancy Watson’s sister and brother-in-law, Jean and Becky Smischney; their two children, Jay, 10, and Kimberly, 8, and two neighbor children, Michelle Bastle, 10, and Robin Bastle, 12.

Mike Doro, principal of the 147-student elementary school, which five of the children attended, said he has asked for a crisis intervention team to come to the school today.