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Up in flames!
Len Luedtke - Marshfield School District

Up in flames!

your$ magazine Fall 2008At 5:50 a.m. on February 12, 2008, Diane Luedtke told her husband Len she smelled smoke, and by 6:05 the flames were ripping across the roof of their Marshfield home. Here’s what happened.

4:45 a.m.
It started out as a normal Tuesday. The Luedtke’s were up at quarter to five as usual. “I had been reading the paper, riding my exercise bike and watching the news in the family room on the lower level, pretty much like any other day,” Len said.

5:50 a.m.
“When I came upstairs, Diane said she smelled smoke. The fireplace was going, but I checked it and it was fine. Then I went to the garage. The lights didn’t work, garage door opener didn’t work, and there was smoke.”

Len then opened the service door at the back of the garage but saw no flames. He went to the lower level one more time for his keys. His plan was to open the garage door from the outside, but explosions from car tires and windshields from inside the garage sent him back in the house to get Diane.

6:05 a.m.
“Call 911. It’s going down.” Len is a former volunteer fire fighter, so Diane knew he was serious. She grabbed her coat and went to the neighbors to call. “As I was leaving,” she said, “I saw flames shoot across the roof. It hurt to watch.”

The fire started in the walls. A cordless drill charger plugged into an outlet in the garage overheated and shorted out inside the paneled wall. “Then I think it went into the ceiling,” Diane adds, “Just before Len came to get me, I was standing in the bedroom doorway and couldn’t see the bathroom across the hall. The smoke was thick. It happened so quickly.”

7:30 a.m.
The fire department was able to knock the fire down by 7:30 a.m., and by 8:00 the Luedtke’s were looking for things that could be salvaged. There wasn’t much. What wasn’t burned had extensive smoke and/or water damage. There was six inches of water in the lower level from the fire hoses. Both of their vehicles, including a prized 1957 Chevy, were totaled, and the blue one-speed, wide-tired bike Len was known to ride to school was also lost.

Picking up the pieces
Luedtke fire“I called Member Benefits and they sent an adjustor out right away. He explained the process and then Mike Trudeau, a local builder, came by and the two got together to assess the damage to determine the replacement cost,” Len recalls.

At some point someone handed Len an envelope. “I’m not even sure who it was—maybe the Red Cross. I didn’t even open it until later in the day. There was some cash and vouchers for two free nights at the AmeriHost hotel,” Len said.

Two of their four children drove to Marshfield the day of the fire. They all huddled in the hotel room. “It was cozy,” Diane laughs. You can tell it meant a lot to have family close.

Over the next few days all of their children arrived to help them with the inventory.

“The inventory was tough,” they agree. The Luedtke’s went from room to room listing what was destroyed. While there was little to salvage, some of the rooms were still intact enough to identify items. They had to rely on memory to inventory burned-out areas like the garage.

“I guess we didn’t really lose anything we needed.” Len says pragmatically. What’s missed most are things like the old chore jacket that belonged to Len’s dad, and the football jerseys belonging to Len and his son that hung in the family rec room along with sports trophies, football films… “things that might not mean much to anyone else. I’m sorry they’re gone.”