Ham Lake caretaker saves 2 from fire, dies in ‘final act of kindness’

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 21, 2011 - 10:34 AM

Carol Wood rescued Lois Means from a burning house, then returned to fetch her a robe. She never came back.

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A house fire in Ham Lake killed a woman who had alerted two others inside to the blaze and saved their lives, authorities said Thursday. The blaze broke out at about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday at the home in the 3600 block of Bunker Boulevard, according to the Anoka County Sheriff's Office. A woman, described as a live-in caretaker, was found dead amid what responding personnel described as a large working fire. A 78-year-old woman and her 52-year-old son escaped from the home, the Sheriff's Office said. They were alerted to the fire by the caretaker, allowing them to be removed from the home, the Sheriff's Office added.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Carrying out a "final act of kindness," a woman who moved to Ham Lake three weeks ago to care for an elderly family friend died in a house fire Wednesday after rescuing the woman and her son from their beds in the middle of the night.

Carol Jean Wood, 54, noticed smoke filling the small house at 11:30 p.m. and helped Lois Means, 78, out of her main-floor bedroom, authorities said. She then alerted Michael Means, 52, who was sleeping in the basement.

Wood then rushed back inside to grab a robe for Lois Means, to shield her against the October chill, with the fire's flames hidden inside walls, authorities said. Wood never made it out.

Firefighters from three departments arrived quickly and had already been alerted that she was still inside the house on the 3600 block of Bunker Lake Boulevard NE.

The fire, which started in the basement and collapsed part of the main floor, spread through the home within minutes, said Ham Lake Deputy Fire Chief Rob Ackermann. Firefighters couldn't find Wood during a preliminary search and spent the next hour extinguishing the blaze.

Lois and Michael Means were taken to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, but weren't hurt in the fire, authorities said. A hospital spokeswoman said the family declined to comment.

For hours after the blaze, authorities could only speculate on Wood's connection to the Means family and why she went back inside the house, said Cmdr. Paul Sommer of the Anoka County Sheriff's Office.

They later learned through statements given to investigators by the family that Wood was a friend of the Meanses who agreed to live with Lois Means, who has medical problems that Sommer declined to discuss. Wood isn't employed by an agency providing health care services, he said.

"In her final act of kindness, Carol Wood tried to return to Lois Means' bedroom to get a robe to provide warmth to the elderly homemaker, but was overcome before being able to exit the home," he said.

Sommer said Wood listed her most recent address as Lois Means' home. A son had been contacted about her death, he said.

The Meanses' house is in an older section of Ham Lake on a woody parcel of land. Several neighbors said they didn't know the family.

A large pole with an American flag waved in the front yard Thursday. A small, painted rock near a front sidewalk said "Welcome to my garden." Most of the house's windows had been smashed out during the fire.

Once outside the house, Lois Means called her daughter to tell her about the fire. The daughter then called 911, Sommer said.

Water for the fire had to be supplied through water tankers, Ackermann said. Michael Means told investigators he had been smoking, but Sommer said they don't know what caused the fire.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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