On a late December Thursday afternoon, Jon Ceplecha was working outside of his rural Redwood Falls home.
“I was chipping away some ice in a low spot here in front of the house,” said Ceplecha, adding that is when he saw what no homeowner ever wants to see.
Smoke was coming from inside of the house.
Ceplecha investigated and saw that smoke rolling along the top of his home.
“It looked like a blanket,” said Ceplecha, adding in the dark he could see little else.
Ceplecha drove to his neighbors, and the Redwood Falls Fire Department was called.
“I went back thinking I could take care of it myself,” said Ceplecha, adding he thought it was something small that would be over quickly. “I knew there would be some damage, but I thought it would be minimal.”
As he tried to enter the main door of the house, Ceplecha felt the intense heat of the fire.
“I never even made it in the house,” he said. “The heat just blasted me.”
In those brief moments of standing in the doorway and feeling the heat Ceplecha was burned on his hands and face. As the fire grew Ceplecha began hearing the windows blow out, and he helplessly watched the house burn.
The fire department arrived on the scene, and by that time the house was fully engulfed. Four additional area fire departments from Morton, Morgan, Wabasso and Belview were called in to assist, especially with providing water. Firefighters were on the scene for about five hours that day, and in the end the house was totally destroyed.
“It’s devastating,” said Ceplecha, adding, however, he is glad no one got seriously hurt.
Initially, Ceplecha did not think much about the burns he received, but as he stood and watched he began to be a bit more concerned about what he was feeling. He spoke with personnel on the scene, was checked out and ultimately spent two days in the burn unit at Hennepin County Medical Center.
“I received second-degree burns on my hands, face and ears,” said Ceplecha, adding he recalls how painful the ambulance ride from Redwood Falls to the metro area was.
Ceplecha’s daughter, Emma, came home for several days to help care for him.
The house Ceplecha has called his home for most of his life was built by his parents more than 50 years ago, and over the years lots of memories and mementos have defined the house for him.
Ceplecha pointed to a shelf in one of the main areas of the home that was full of books. Those books are now covered with tarps in the hope that some of them can be saved.
“Some of those books my mother collected from the ditch,” he said. “When the country school closed, many of the books were just pitched, and so my mother went out and got them.”
While the loss of the home where he grew up is not easy to accept, Ceplecha admitted what has been even harder is knowing all of those things his family has cherished, including his parents World War II items, are gone.
The insurance company and fire marshal’s office have been to the home, and Ceplecha said he was told the assumption is that some sort of electrical malfunction caused it. Yet, he added, they also told him the ultimate cause may never be discovered.
Ceplecha said when tragedy strikes one really learns about themselves and the people around them.
“This community has been incredible,” said Ceplecha, adding he has received support from so many people. “I am just amazed by the acts of charity I have experienced.”
Ceplecha expressed his appreciation to the members of the fire department who worked on the scene.
“I am just so thankful I live in a place where people are willing to volunteer their time for others like that,” said Ceplecha. “I really appreciate everything that they did.”
Ceplecha, who is currently living in a hotel room is considering his options, adding it is his intent to rebuild on the site and to try and salvage whatever he can from the home.
In order to help Ceplecha meet his everyday needs, a benefit is being held Feb. 11 from 5-7:30 p.m. at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church in Redwood Falls. The event will include a spaghetti feed and silent auction. The benefit is being coordinated by the Knights of Columbus and the American Legion. Items for the silent auction may be dropped off at the American Legion hall in Redwood Falls.
Ceplecha’s son, Miles, has also set up a Go Fund Me site at www.gofundme.com/jonathanfirefund.
As a retired member of the U.S. military, Ceplecha said any life event offers lessons that can be learned.
While he is saddened by the loss, Ceplecha said he has seen the goodness of people in this tragedy, and for that he is extremely grateful.
“I have experienced a lot of joys in this home over the years, probably more than I deserve,” said Ceplecha, adding it is those memories and life experiences that no fire can ever take away.