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Rice Lake woman dies in house fire

A 56-year-old Rice Lake Township woman died Wednesday in a fire that destroyed her home. Firefighters were called to the home of Sandra Jean McClelland about 6:45 a.m. to battle the fire, which wasn't extinguished until late morning. McClelland w...

Fighting the fire
Firefighters battle a house fire on Rice Lake Road on Wednesday morning as flames come from the structure's roof. A woman was killed in the fire. Andrew Krueger / akrueger@duluthnews.com

A 56-year-old Rice Lake Township woman died Wednesday in a fire that destroyed her home.

Firefighters were called to the home of Sandra Jean McClelland about 6:45 a.m. to battle the fire, which wasn't extinguished until late morning.

McClelland was identified by family members at the scene, who told investigators that she lived alone at the residence. McClelland probably died of smoke inhalation, according to the St. Louis County Medical Examiner's initial investigation. No one else was found inside the home.

The state fire marshal has ruled out arson as a cause of the fire. The fire apparently started in the kitchen, said St. Louis County supervising deputy Steven Steblay, but the exact cause still was under investigation Wednesday evening.

McClelland worked in dietary services at Edgewood Vista Senior Living and also at the Aftenro nursing home, said her supervisor at Aftenro, Shirley Carroll.

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"Everybody here loved her," Carroll said. "If you knew her, she would light up your life. If you were in a bad mood, she'd make you laugh."

"She's going to be deeply missed by everybody," Carroll said.

McClelland worked a shift at Aftenro on Tuesday night, Carroll said.

McClelland lived at the Rice Lake Road home her entire life, said Mike Lepak, who worked down the street from her residence at Skip's Home Center. He said he has known McClelland for about 30 years.

"She was just a real nice lady," Lepak said. "She'd always wave and smile when you saw her in her car."

McClelland's parents owned and ran Mrs. Mac's Auto Repair at what is now McClelland's home, Lepak said. The business closed when McClelland's parents died, he said.

He said her brother, Ray, lived at a home just north of McClelland's. No one was at that home Wednesday morning.

Firefighters set up tarps near the house at least twice to block the view as they attempted to bring McClelland's body out, but had to take them down as flames picked up.

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A passerby reported the fire about 6:45 a.m. Firefighters from at least five departments -- Rice Lake, Canosia, Grand Lake, Lakewood and the 148th Fighter Wing -- were on the scene.

Another passerby said intense flames could be seen inside the older, two-story house about 6:40 a.m. One man was visible on the property, running around outside the house.

Minnesota Power was at the scene early on to cut power to the home.

Shortly after 10 a.m., much of the smoke had cleared and half of the home's roof was gone. A backhoe was at the scene, tearing away portions of the north side of the home to give firefighters access to douse hot spots.

Related Topics: FIRES
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