Florida man aids rescue of two women, dog from Portage fire

February 26, 2019

Kurt Zuelsdorf kicked the front door in as big plumes of black, tire-burning smoke billowed above a house at 316 E. Howard St. in Portage.

The door flew open with hardly any resistance. Smoke filled the house. He heard screaming.

But Zuelsdorf said he wasn’t scared, just focused on helping the two women trapped inside the Portage home, which was under threat Monday from a fire raging in an adjacent garage.

“The elderly lady, she couldn’t move,” Zuelsdorf said. “They were trapped.”

He rushed to the aid of a 92-year-old woman and helped her daughter ease the elderly woman into a wheelchair as a frightened dog raced about the smoke-filled house. Zuelsdorf helped the younger woman haul her mother out the front door just as Portage police officers arrived on scene around 11:45 a.m. to escort everyone to safety.

The dramatic rescue was a success, and no one was injured. The garage, however — where Portage Assistant Police Chief Keith Klafke said the fire broke out — burned to its foundation.

The blaze also melted side panels off the house where the women were rescued and a neighbor’s property.

Portage Fire Chief Clayton Simonson did not yet have an estimate as to how much the damage to the homes and garage might cost to replace or repair.

Klafke said the cause of the fire remains under investigation. Police did not confirm the identities of the family in the home, but did confirm the age of the older woman.

Kurt Zuelsdorf and his wife, Carol, live in Florida and are in town to visit her father, Don Salzman, to celebrate his 90th birthday, which was Saturday. Carol Zuelsdorf was born and raised in Portage.

Kurt Zuelsdorf said in the heat of the moment, all attention turned to helping those two women and that he was just glad he was there at the right time to be able to help.

He said if someone hadn’t immediately ran inside to help, they might not have made it out alive.

The Pardeeville Fire Department, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and Alliant Energy workers assisted Portage police and firefighters at the scene. At least 22 firefighters and six police officers responded. The firefighters formed two attack lines and used three fire engines to battle the blaze.

Simonson said firefighters and police officers did an excellent job containing and extinguishing the fire. He said both departments work well together.

Alliant Energy cut the water and electricity in both damaged houses after the fire was extinguished.

Justin Kern, communications officer for the American Red Cross of Wisconsin, said a care team from the Red Cross planned to meet Monday afternoon with the three people displaced by the fire — the 92-year-old woman, her adult daughter and her daughter’s son, who was not home at the time of the fire. All three have been placed in a Portage hotel at Red Cross expense.

The Red Cross will assess them for possible injuries, although police and fire officials don’t believe anyone was injured.

“We are in a place to take care of their immediate needs and connect them with community and county resources,” Kern said.

Daily Register Senior Reporter Lyn Jerde contributed to this report.

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