It had been 15 years since someone had died in a fire in Alexandria, Minn.
An early morning fire at a home in the Viking City mobile home park claimed the lives of a man and a woman, marking the first fire deaths in Minnesota in 2018. While the cause of the blaze had yet to be determined as of Friday afternoon, a fire official said the mobile home did not have a smoke detector.
Authorities identified the victims as Rose Marie Couillard, 59, and James Willis Chandler, 49.
Stunned by the tragedy, Judith Young, a surgical technician who lives two homes away from the victims, quickly took action. Within hours of the fire, she took to Facebook and began a campaign to make sure all of her neighbors' homes have working smoke detectors.
"It's tragic and senseless and could have been prevented with a working smoke detector," Young said, choking up.
"Maybe Jimmy and Rose would still be here."
"My goal is to not lose any of my other neighbors," she added.
Young said she watched in horror as flames engulfed her neighbors' home just before 5 a.m.
"I felt so helpless knowing they were in there," Young said.
Within minutes after firefighters arrived, they pulled Couillard and Chandler from a bedroom. Attempts to revive them failed, and they were pronounced dead a short time later.
The state fire marshal's office continues to investigate the cause of the fire. No foul play is suspected.
Within a few hours of Young's Facebook post, strangers who saw it showed up at her door to offer up smoke detectors and deliver a few hugs.
Young said she plans to go door-to-door to the 35 homes in the mobile home park this weekend to make sure everyone has a working smoke detector.
The urgency is especially great in Alexandria, a city of about 13,000 people 140 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. It has an estimated 200 mobile homes, according to census data.
"If there is a silver lining, it's [Young's work]," said Alexandria Fire Chief Jeff Karrow. "Working smoke detectors are so vital."
Young said that the plunging, subzero temperatures of the past week sent many residents scrambling to get space heaters in order to stay warm and prevent pipes from freezing.
"We all have space heaters going because we don't have an option," she said after changing out the batteries in her smoke detector as a precaution. "It could easily cause another fire. Smoke detectors make a huge difference."
The number of fire deaths in Minnesota spiked in 2017, with more than 50 people losing their lives — more than any recent year.
Minnesota law requires smoke alarms in all residential buildings, including mobile homes.
The American Red Cross, which offered assistance to the Alexandria victims' family on Friday, launched a campaign a few years ago to install and provide free smoke detectors to anyone requesting them, and it has targeted some mobile home parks in Minnesota. (To request one, call 612-460-3674 or go to getasmokealarm.org.)
"We know they can be more at risk," Red Cross spokeswoman Carrie Carlson-Guest said of the mobile homes. "During the winter, we see an increase in the number of home fires. It can be a really tough time of year."
Which is why Young will be out in the bitter cold this weekend to spread the message and — maybe — save another neighbor's life.
"It took something like this," she said. "It just breaks my heart."