Frankville, Ossian and Decorah firefighters responded to a fire at the Frankville home of Mike McAbee Tuesday morning. The interior of the residence,which was once the Farmers Savings Bank, was destroyed. (Decorah Newspapers photo by Sarah Strandberg)
The home of a local musician well known throughout the tri-state area was gutted by a fire Tuesday morning.
Firefighters were called to the Frankville residence of Mike McAbee at about 8:50 a.m. Tuesday. When they arrived, the bedroom, where it is believed the fire started, was fully engulfed, according to Frankville Fire Chief Monty Wilder.
The Decorah and Ossian fire departments also responded.
A cause hasn't been determined, but McAbee said it could have been electrical wiring. Built in 1901, his house was originally Farmers Savings Bank. It was a tavern when McAbee bought it and converted it to a residence.
McAbee was in another room working on his computer when he smelled "something." He opened the door to his bedroom and saw everything was in flames. After considering using a fire extinguisher, McAbee decided it would be better to close the door to starve the fire of oxygen and call 911.
"I grabbed my filing cabinet and threw it into the street, got my computer, went outside and crossed my fingers and waited (for firefighters)," he said.
Firefighters targeted the blaze when they arrived.
"They knocked it down and did a good job extinguishing it - fast enough so it stopped the spread of the flames," Wilder said.
"They did a great job," said McAbee.
While the fire was contained to the bedroom, the rest of the house sustained a significant amount of smoke and water damage, Wilder said. However, the brick exterior remains standing and McAbee plans to refurbish his home.
Frankville is unincorporated and doesn't have a community water system, although one is planned to provide households with drinking water. When it's built, the system will not provide water for fire protection, Wilder said.
Tuesday morning, water was shuttled from a dry hydrant (pond) on one of Albert Ashbacher's nearby farms to a portable tank next to a pumper truck used to fight the fire
"It's closer than driving to Decorah or Postville for water," Wilder said.
"We're the only unincorporated fire department in Winneshiek County. We don't have hydrants in town so we use dry hydrants to draft water," he explained.
The fire department has seven dry hydrants in Frankville Township located on private property.
"Landowners let us draft from their ponds ... they are good, community minded people," Wilder said.
In addition to the other fire departments, Frankville firefighters were assisted by Alliant Energy, which turned off power to the house; the Winneshiek County Sheriff's Department and Iowa State Patrol, traffic control; Winneshiek Medical Center ambulance; Bruce Goetsch, Winneshiek County Emergency Management; and the Decorah Law Enforcement Center dispatchers.
"I appreciate all the other agencies that came to assist on this ... it shows how a community comes together in a time of need," Wilder said. "It's pretty devastating to have happen a couple of days before Thanksgiving."
McAbee was the only one home when the fire broke out Tuesday. His son Abe, 16, was at school in Postville and his daughter, Lula, 2, was in daycare.
McAbee and his daughter lost all their clothing. Abe's closet is the old bank safe, and some of his clothing was spared.
When he was given a $500 gift card from the American Red Cross of the Tri-States, McAbee said he thought of the victims of the typhoon that recently devastated the Philippines whose situation is so much worse than his.
The Red Cross is also providing three nights in a hotel, something McAbee appreciates since his "couch surfing" with friends could get old for his hosts.
The guitar and musical equipment McAbee needs for his shows were safe in his car. But Tuesday afternoon he was waiting for an insurance adjustor to assess the damage before checking on other musical equipment and guitars stored in an upper crawl space and in the basement, which had inches of water after the fire.
His most valuable guitar - one he's had since he was 13 -- is a 1968 Gretsch Atkinson Nashville model he stored in the crawl space that was possibly was damaged by fire.
"I probably lost all my CD inventory from water damage - they're stored in the basement," he added.
McAbee said he was insured.
Performing this week
The show goes on for McAbee, who played in Lansing Wednesday night and has performances in Wisconsin the rest of the week. He and his children will stay with his mother in Stevens Point, Wis.
"I do this for a living. I need the money - I've got to keep playing," he said, adding any other person with a job would have to do the same thing. "It will be therapy. I've been through worse."
Known for his sense of humor and songs such as "I like to Pee Outside," McAbee has opened for country stars including Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith and Charlie Daniels and has performed on National Public Radio's "Car Talk."
The musician said he'd probably write a song about the fire, but just not right now.
Staying in Frankville
McAbee was comforted by his son, who came home from school after learning his house was on fire.
"He's a really great kid. He was right there with me telling me he loves me. I feel like I have everything I need. I don't need charity," he said. "I love Frankville, and I love the people of Frankville. I'm not going anywhere."
McAbee's friends have established an account for his family to help with temporary lodging and other expenses. The account is at Farmers and Merchants Savings Bank, located on Main Street in Waukon. The bank also has a Decorah branch at Walmart.
Donations can be mailed to Farmers and Merchants Savings Bank, PO Box 572, Decorah, IA 52101 or PO Box 9, Waukon, IA 52172.