UPDATE: Caledonia Fire Chief Dick Roeder said the fire was accidental in nature and started in the kitchen in the area of the stove.
ORIGINAL STORY: One man died and another is in critical condition after an early morning fire gutted an upstairs apartment at the Corner Connection, 6961 Douglas Ave., at 1:32 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 24.
The lone fatality was Mark A. Stroede, 53. David L. Peters, 48, also lived above the bar, and he is in critical condition at St. Mary's Hospital in Milwaukee.
A patron at Corner Connection, who wished not to be named, said she was sitting in the back of the bar at 1:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 24, 2011 when someone opened the door. Initially, they thought a Christmas decoration on the wall was on fire and someone threw it outside.
“When the door opened up, we saw the smoke coming down between the floor boards,” the woman said.
Trad Schluechtermann, of Caledonia, said he was also in the bar when he saw smoke by the back door. Initially, he thought it was the cigarette can was on fire outside, but he realized the smoke was coming from inside the building because he saw it coming out of the doorframe and he knew Peters and Stroede were upstairs. When he ran outside, he heard someone in the apartment screaming.
"I kicked the door open, and I crawled in there. When I got to the hallway...I saw someone (David) flailing on the ground," Schluechtermann said. "I grabbed him by the hand and his skin came off of his hand."
The smoke had started to get thick inside the apartment. Schluechtermann started coughing and he was having a hard time breathing, so he went back outside and started screaming for help. He then went back into the apartment to get Peters.
“Glass was popping, the smoke was thick… It was a scene right out of a movie,” Schluechtermann said.
All of the patrons in the bar left the building and they saw that the whole second floor was engulfed in flames, the woman said.
“Just then, a guy that I know, Ryan Morrow… they call him Fuzzy, he went up there to help pull the guy (Peters) out and as he was doing that we were trying find everyone we came with to make sure everyone was out,” the woman said. “I could hear them screaming, ‘Don’t grab his hands, his skin is coming off.’”
Schluechtermann and Murrow went into the apartment, and pulled Peters out of the burning apartment by his ankles. Schluechtermann said he went back up the stairs to get Mark, but the fire had gotten too big to go back in.
The woman went to move her truck, and just as she pulled away, a window on the second floor blew out.
The woman’s sister had called 911 along with several others. She told the dispatcher what the group was screaming and that there was someone still trapped in the apartment. By the time Murrow and Schluechtermann had gotten Peters down the stairs, the police had arrived, and they wrapped Peters in a jacket and put him into the squad car while they waited for the fire department to get there.
“David was an acquaintance,” Schluechtermann said. “I know he’s still listed critical condition. I feel bad about Mark. He was an acquaintance as well. From my understanding, he was the type of guy that would have helped anyone out.”
The cause of the fire is unknown and remains under investigation, said Lt. Gary Larsen of the Caledonia Police Department.
UPDATED: This version includes Schluechtermann's comments.