Ruth Boldan, 86, a retired teacher from Brainerd, was in the basement of her Leader, Minn., house about 8:30 Saturday night when her granddaughter, Kelsie Weite, said she heard something crackling.
When Weite walked outside, she saw flames shooting out from the roof, so she ran back in to tell her brother, Logan, and her grandmother.
As Boldan and her family rushed to get out of their home, at the same time, Matt Sparby of Bemidji was driving on State Highway 64 near Leader when he saw smoke and flames coming from a house.
Sparby was driving his wife, Jessie, his mother-in-law, Mercein Wittwer, and his two children, Alexa and Kendra. They were driving from Bemidji to the Twin Cities.
Upon seeing the house, Matt Sparby hit the breaks, turned his vehicle around and parked it in Boldan's driveway.
"I saw the family walk out of their house and then the little girl asked for our help because her grandma couldn't drive," Sparby said. "We were concerned. My wife called 911, and then moved one of their vehicles so they could sit inside the vehicle to stay warm."
Sparby said he then tried to call Boldan's daughter, Dawn, and Boldan's son-in-law, Jeff Weite, the parents of the children who also lived at the residence.
"Finally, I got a hold of the mom and I told her the kids were safe and grandma was sitting in the car," Sparby said.
Jessie Sparby drove the family and their two dogs to a nearby gas station as Matt Sparby stayed behind hoping to salvage what he could out of the house.
"After about five minutes other people showed up to help get things out of the house," Sparby said.
He and several others worked fast to remove items, such as family photo albums, the television set and their brand-new washer and dryer, from the house.
"I wasn't sure if I was supposed to go in or not, but we carried things out until the sheriff came and told us we couldn't go in anymore," Sparby said.
It was no longer than 15 minutes from the time he first arrived, Sparby said, before the house became completely engulfed in flames.
As the evening wore on, the fire department was on the scene and more family members arrived. Sparby and his family felt it was OK to leave.
"We felt so bad for them," Sparby said. "We had other friends in Blackduck lose their home a few weeks ago."
Kelly Boldan of Willmar, Ruth Boldan's son, reported that the local fire department left the scene around 2 a.m. Sunday. He and his niece's husband stayed to keep watch for new flames.
At 4:45 a.m. Kelly Boldan called 911 again when another flame ignited in the house. The fire department returned and stayed until about 7 a.m. Sunday.
Unfortunately, the fire completely destroyed Boldan residence. Several family members salvaged what they could on Monday. Ruth Boldan and the Weites are now staying at a relative's house in Leader.
Kelly Boldan, former editor of the Bemidji Pioneer, stated in an e-mail that the Bemidji couple's help was outstanding. Also, the 911 call was critical, as the house phone was not in service.
"We pray for them and wish them the best," Sparby said. "We would've done what we did for anyone."
A Boldan-Weite fire benefit fund has been set up in care of Unity Bank, P.O. Box 7, Pillager, Minn. 56473.