Eichelbergs digging out in St. Michael

Evidence of a fire at the Eichelberg’s turn-of-the-century home on Main Street is only visible by covered windows. Inside their home was a different story, as fire, smoke and water damaged most of the interior. (Sun Press photo by Aaron Brom)

Fire guts historic home’s interior

BY AARON BROM

Sun Press Newspapers

A week after a fire gutted most of the interior of their home, beloved longtime St. Michael residents Elmer and Karol Eichelberg were digging out and saving what they could.

They were also scrambling to make living arrangements, preferably in St. Michael, as the couple won’t be able to move back into their home for six months at the earliest, or possibly never again as the damage might be too much to rebuild.

The Eichelbergs were away at dinner Thursday, May 4, when a fire started inside the northeast corner of their Main Street home and quickly spread all throughout the main floor and most of the upper level.

“It still comes down to crunching the numbers,” Elmer Eichelberg said. “How much money will it take to bring (the home) back to where we were or better?”

Elmer Eichelberg sorts through personal belongings inside the main living room of his home on Main Street. The Eichelbergs are searching for temporary living while the insurance company calculates whether the home can be repaired following a devastating May 4 fire.

The Eichelberg’s, who have lived in their turn-of-the-century home for 49 years, are entrenched in the St. Michael-Albertville community. Elmer was a longtime STMA teacher, as well as a former city councilor in St. Michael and Wright County Commissioner. A veteran, he and Carol are also very visible with the American Legion.

Extremely fortunate for the couple, they are located directly across the street from the St. Michael Fire Hall. So when firefighters saw smoke emitting from their house, their quick action saved the home from even more destruction.

Elmer Eichelberg works the phone attempting to find a living space within St. Michael, as wife Karol sits near personal belongings dug out from inside. The Eichelberg’s home of 49 years on Main Street was almost entirely gutted on the inside following a May 4 fire. (Sun Press photos by Aaron Brom)

“Had it been another half hour, you wouldn’t see anything here,” Elmer Eichelberg said.

A structural engineer was on site Wednesday, May 10, nearly a week after the fire.

“Structurally, the building is OK,” Eichelberg said. “All the cabling, walls and electrical needs to be replaced.”

The Eichelbergs were still digging out with the help of their grandson on Wednesday, gathering all the personal items they could salvage. Topping the list are hundreds of family photos, most of which are salvageable. Some old photos on the wall succumbed to the flames.

“A lot of things inside, we can save,” Karol Eichelberg added.

Elmer said if the couple can find a place to move into, they may put their Main Avenue home up for sale, assuming the building is saved. Meantime, the community which has so revered the couple is already coming to its aid in the form of donations set up at the Liberty Bar and Restaurant at the American Legion, and at First American Bank.

“This community, we’re so very blessed with support!” Elmer said.

The fire’s cause remains under investigation.

Hundreds of Eichelberg family photos are spread across a table in their garage, following a fire that destroyed most of their home’s interior. (Sun Press photo by Aaron Brom)