AUSTIN, Minn. - Smoke and flames were rising from a home in Austin Thursday, as first responders battled a residential fire in the Northeast part of the city.
Crews were called a home on the 600 block of 11th St NE around 4:30 P.M., with Austin Fire, Austin PD, and Brownsdale Fire all responding to the scene. The home's residents, a single father and his five young children, were able to evacuate safely before firefighters knocked down the blaze.
Relatives of the family tell KIMT a child was playing with a lighter before clothes accidentally caught fire. They add the father, Rico Cooper, was treated at a hospital for burns to his hands and feet.
The blaze took everything from Cooper and his children, all under age nine, according relatives who are now collecting donations to help them recover from a devastating loss.
"He had five little ones all under nine to get out of the house safely, and the last thing on his mind was trying to grab anything else," said Shirleen Voigt, Cooper's sister-in-law and the children's aunt. "They left the house yesterday with nothing - the clothes that they were wearing, you know? And they were just in the house playing, so two of the boys didn't even have shirts on."
Voigt says with Cooper not having insurance or savings to pay for expenses, the first priority of fundraising efforts is to find the family a new home. She adds while there's still much work to be done, the support they've received from community members so far has been unbelievable.
"The community has been amazing. We are getting calls, messages, emails, you know, people reaching out left and right. It's just unbelievable, the amount of support that has just been pouring in since yesterday."
Relatives say every donation helps. You can learn how to contribute by following this link.