Several people stopped by Craig Groebner's house north of Madison Lake Monday to make sure he was okay.

John Cross
The Free Press

A gathering with friends ended early, but the excitement didn’t for Craig Groebner Sunday night.

Everyone had left after a barbecue and he had just sat down in a recliner to relax when an explosion rocked him out of his chair. When he ran outside to see if his chimney had been struck by lightning, he realized the overhead door on his garage had been blown off and was lying several feet down the driveway.

It had blown right past the spot where his friends’ cars had been parked a short time earlier. The blast also had bowed both of the side walls on the garage.

“If that garage door would have blown off while they were walking by, it would have killed them,” Groebner said Monday.

He also saw smoke coming out of his fireplace, which is what made him think the chimney had been hit by a bolt of lightning. When he went back into the house to get his wallet, cash and other valuables, the entire house was full of smoke and getting hot.

“I got about halfway through the kitchen and realized that wasn’t going to be a good idea,” he said.

Groebner already had a hose hooked up and ready to use because he had been working on a concrete project. He prepared to spray water in his garage while he called 911 at about 9:40 p.m.

The road past his house, which is about a mile north of Madison Lake on Blue Earth County Road 26, was closed to traffic as firefighters worked to put out the fire. They remained on scene until about 3 a.m.

Groebner said there were several balls of fire in different parts of the garage, which he was able to put out quickly. The door that leads from the garage to his basement was extremely hot. He kept it cool so it wouldn’t burn through while he waited for firefighters to arrive, but didn’t open it. If he had opened the door, he might have fed more oxygen to the fire in his basement, he said.

One of Groebner’s friends, Tim Austad, was one of the last people to leave the earlier gathering. He lives in Madison Lake, so he was one of the first people Groebner called for help after dialing 911.

Austad said, by the time he got back to the house, there wasn’t much he could do.

Firefighters broke a hole through the roof in Groebner’s living room to let the smoke out. They also pulled off a portion of drywall to extinguish flames that had spread up from the basement through the wall. The entire house was damaged by fire, smoke, ash and water, Groebner said.

When the firefighters had most of their work done, Groebner did find his laptop computer lying near his chair. It was under a pile of drywall, insulation and shingles that had fallen when the firefighters cut a hole in his roof. The computer was still running.

“It still works now,” he said Monday.

Several people, including the friends who had been over the night before, stopped by Groebner’s house Monday to make sure he hadn’t been hurt. There wasn’t much they could do to help, though, because the house was still taped off so the cause of the fire could be investigated.

Groebner said he still wasn’t sure what happened. He just knew that whatever happened came with a bone-jarring bang.

“You know how it feels when you hear thunder and you can feel it through your whole body?” he asked. “It was just like that, but a lot worse.”

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