Two sisters die in Wauzeka house fire

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A house fire at 510 E. Main St., Wauzeka, claimed the lives of Trinity Bartels, 15, and her sister, Lena Bartels, 12, who were the only occupants in the home. Their parents, Adam and Rebecca Bartels, were both working at the time of the fire. Firefighters were on scene for over 14 hours battling the blaze. (Photos by Correne Martin)

A few gifts of stuffed animals, flowers and more on Wednesday made the beginnings of a memorial for the two girls who lost their lives in the Wauzeka house fire Tuesday.

By Correne Martin

The Wauzeka community is mourning along with the parents of two girls who died in a house fire Monday night into Tuesday morning.

A caller notified the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department of the fire at 510 E. Main St., just before 11:40 p.m. Monday, according to Sheriff Dale McCullick. The caller reported that the house was engulfed in flames and there was smoke coming from the windows. A sheriff’s deputy, along with the caller and neighbors, attempted to enter the residence but couldn’t due to the amount of smoke and fire. The Wauzeka Fire Department and Wauzeka First Responders responded to the call, while the Boscobel Fire Department and Boscobel EMS provided mutual aid.

After the fire was extinguished, the girls’ bodies were discovered inside the house. Crawford County Coroner Joe Morovits pronounced them both dead at the scene. Trinity, 15, and Lena Bartels, 12, were the only occupants in the home at the time of the fire, as their parents, Adam and Rebecca Bartels, were both working third shift, according to accounts on the Courier Press’ Facebook page.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation at press time Wednesday morning, according to the sheriff’s department. Sheriff McCullick said he is absolutely certain there is nothing suspicious that caused the fire.

The Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation, state fire marshal and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agencies were on scene by mid-day Tuesday. They were there for over five hours.

The Wauzeka Fire Department was on the scene until 1:45 p.m. Tuesday. Crawford County Dispatch called units back to the home eight minutes later, due to a hot spot in the upstairs that sparked again. They were there for another 45 minutes before returning to the station.

The firemen braved below zero temperatures for more than 14 hours total.

“We battled through the cold at first until we got the fire under control and the bodies were recovered. Then we went back and brought our equipment truck (to the scene). So guys would get in there to warm up,” Wauzeka Fire Chief Todd Krachey said. “One of our nozzles malfunctioned and Boscobel had trouble with their ladder truck. We think the cold was a factor in those issues, but it didn’t hinder our abilities to fight the fire.”

According to Krachey, a critical incident stress management training, or debriefing, was held for Wauzeka Fire and First Responders Tuesday evening.

“It was a good thing. Such a tragedy like this is hard on everyone,” Krachey stated.

At the Wauzeka-Steuben School, which both girls had attended since early childhood, District Administrator Robert Sailer said the district was running its normal schedule this week. However, on Tuesday, counselors from five other districts as well as the district’s substitute teachers were brought in to talk to students and staff affected by the tragic loss of the Bartels sisters.

“The students in the girls’ classes (seventh and ninth) all talked to the counselors,” Sailer stated, and then the counselors met with the rest of the student body as needed. Numerous area school districts and agencies have offered their counseling services moving forward.

“In a small school like ours, everybody knows everybody,” he said.

Sailer also released a letter to parents and on the district’s Facebook page, stating in part, “Our deepest sympathy lays with the family and those who were close to the two amazing young ladies who were lost in this tragedy.”

Crawford County Salvation Army Coordinator Jen Kapinus, who also lives in Wauzeka, said she spoke with Adam and Rebecca Bartels Tuesday morning, in addition to getting them clothing, toiletries and food to fulfill their immediate needs.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” she said. “The enormity of this is unfathomable for them right now. To lose your home is one thing, but to lose both your children, it’s your whole lives.”

Kapinus noted that Adam and Rebecca are staying with his parents in Wauzeka at this time, as their home was a total loss. She said caring community members had already donated a freezer full of food by Tuesday morning.

Donations of clothing and other necessities can be given at the Salvation Army office in Prairie du Chien by appointment, by calling 326-8321.

Monetary donations can be made payable to Adam and Rebecca Bartels and mailed to Peoples State Bank, P.O. Box 185, Wauzeka, WI 53826, or they may be dropped off at any regional Peoples State Bank location.

A group of community members met Tuesday evening, Kapinus said, “to talk about what we could do to further support the family” and see what might be done to honor Trinity and Lena.
A benefit will be planned at a later date, she said, at which time more material donations will be sought.

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to help support the Bartels family. As of press time, over $4,500 had been raised in just 17 hours. To find the web page, go to: https://www.gofundme.com/7yk5vqng.

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