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An aggressive fire tore through and gutted a two-story home at the corner of Second and Walnut streets in Freeman early Friday morning, Nov. 29, but the devastation of a total loss is tempered because those living there — Bryce Morgan, his wife, Cassie, and their two children — weren’t home at the time.

Freeman firefighters and EMTs were called to 504 E. Second Street at 4:48 a.m. after neighbor Keith Knodel called 911; when they arrived, the western half of the structure was fully engulfed in flames. Assistant chief Paul Rigo said the crew immediately assembled their hoses and went into prevention mode, with the first water hitting the east side of the house at 4:55 a.m.

“There was no going in there, so we played defense to protect the surrounding area,” he said after daylight had emerged and firefighters were monitoring a pile of smoldering rubble. “The wind was coming from the right direction that the (Knodel house immediately to the east) wasn’t threatened as much.”

It didn’t take long for the flames to engulf the structure entirely and for the front side to collapse.

“The middle of the night like that, it could have been burning awhile before anyone even saw it,” Rigo said. “It was well advanced by the time we got there.”

Fire departments from both Marion and Menno were called for mutual aid and helped provide water and manpower initially but were dismissed once crews had the scene under control.

Adding panic to the scene was the initial uncertainty of whether the family was in the house. The fire department was on the scene, and some neighbors were outside their homes, a good 15 minutes before one of Cassie’s sisters was able to get a hold of her and learn that the family was in Yankton for the night.

“You don’t have time to think about the (what-ifs) when fighting the fire,” Rigo said. “It was just good the hear that they weren’t in there.”

The cause of the fire wasn’t known Friday morning and may never be known.

“With all the rubble laying there, it’s not going to be easy to tell,” said Rigo.

A handful of firefighters remained on the scene throughout Friday morning to monitor the rubble. The department announced it was back in service at 12:23 p.m.