A 6-year-old child died in a mobile home farm in the wee hours of Thursday, Dec. 30 at Cudd’s Court in River Falls. Photo courtesy of Gofundme
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Child dies in mobile home fire

RIVER FALLS – A 6-year-old girl died in a mobile home fire Thursday, Dec. 30 in River Falls.

River Falls Fire Department responded to a house fire at 4:30 a.m. that day at 1450 S. Wasson Lane (Cudd’s Court).

When crews arrived on scene, they found two homes fully engulfed and bystanders reporting a child inside one. Crews began attacking the fire and searching the interior of the homes. Firefighters were able to locate 6-year-old Westside Elementary student Zaelia Follansbee inside, who was confirmed to be deceased. She had been visiting her grandparents, Craig and Cindy Helmer, who were able to escape.

River Falls Fire Chief Steven Cash confirmed the Helmers’ mobile home and one belonging to Doug Smith a total loss. Another mobile home had damage to its siding.

Cash said one of the homeowners went to a neighbor’s home, who made the call to 911. The Helmers were able to get out of the house, while neighbors helped Smith evacuate. EMS evaluated one neighbor for smoke inhalation who had helped Smith evacuate, but that neighbor was later released.

Two cats were in the primary fire mobile home, but they were not found on the scene. Cash said he didn’t know if the cats were able to get out of the home.

Crews were on the scene for 6.5 hours fighting the blaze. Weather did not play a factor.

“Freezing temps always pose a challenge with any fire with trying to keep hose lines from freezing up and slip and fall hazards due to freezing water,” Cash said. “The main challenges were trying to contain two different structure fires simultaneously, especially when one had a roof collapse.”

Cash said the fire was accidental in nature; the specific cause remains under investigation.

Friend of the family Jenni Omundson has organized a Gofundme campaign to assist the family with Zaelia’s funeral expenses. The link to the campaign can be found at “Memorial Funds for Zaelia” on Gofundme.

“Beautiful Zaelia was 6 years old and had a smile and spirit that warmed everyone’s hearts,” Omundson said.

The Helmers’ grandson, Devan Follansbee, has also started a Gofundme page to help his grandparents get back on their feet. The link can be found at https://gofund.me/9fa09a29

January 3, 2023