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Rising from the ashes: Hampton woman coping after May 18 apartment fire

A May 18 fire destroyed the Naughty Pines Bar and a second-floor apartment in Hampton. Photo courtesy of Dakota County Sheriff's Office

Caroline Trites feels fortunate to be safe and alive after losing her home and two beloved dogs Bella and Maya in a May 18 fire in Hampton.

The fire around noon took her three-bedroom apartment on top of Naughty Pines Tavern, formerly known as Frank’s Place, 23309 Water St., Hampton.

“It was devastating and absolutely horrific to watch and I lost them,” said Trites, referring to her two rescue dogs Bella, an 11-year-old chocolate-brown lab, and Maya, a 7-year-old Dachsund.

Away from home running errands, she quickly arrived back home after receiving a phone call from the building owner.

“It was so scary and one of the worst things I have ever been through, watching everything I have owned and have been working for the last 44 years to get and accomplish,” Trites said.

Caroline Trites. Kara Hildreth / ContributorShe was left with her vehicle and the clothes on her back.

“Everything is gone that I own except for my pair of capris, my jacket, T-shirt and my flip flops I was wearing that day.”

Fortunately, Trites owns a renter’s insurance policy and is busy compiling a list to report to her insurance company.

Fire blazing

Randolph-Hampton and Randolph Fire Departments fought the blaze for a couple hours.

Dakota County Sheriff’s Office declared the Hampton building burned to the ground and the bar and restaurant were a total loss. The fire origin reportedly stemmed from someone cutting metal in the basement. That person left the site and the metal project smoldered and caught fire, according to investigators. Law enforcement and the fire marshal do not believe there is a cause for suspicion.

“They believe the fire started in the basement of the bar, and after the firefighters extinguished it, the fire kept burning and smoldering,” Trities said.

Lucky to have been away from home when the fire sparked, Trites wished she could have saved her rescue dogs.

“I am doing okay but I am still in shock since it has only been a day since the fire happened,” Trites said the following day.

Facing adversity

Sister Patty LaBeau of Lakeville said Trites is a hard worker who faces adversity well and always works to get things done. Today she works two jobs at Rascal’s restaurant in Apple Valley in catering and as a waitress, and a second job at a liquor store.

As a girl, Caroline, 44, was given the nickname “Caz.” As a New York native and a Minnesota transplant, she feels connected to Farmington like a hometown due to close friendships she formed when she lived and worked in Farmington for 12 years.

During that time, she worked at Long Branch and Gossips restaurants, the former Eagles Club and American Legion restaurant and bar in downtown Farmington.

Today two brothers and her father make a home in New York, but she was happy to say her father flew home Saturday to offer love and support to her during this tragedy and devastating loss.

“”She loves people and she has always been known as a people person; she has always been a good mentor and the best aunt,” LaBeau said. Caroline is close with her young adult nephew, Drew, 21, and niece, 19-year-old Missy.

“Obviously, her dogs are her babies and so that is going to be the biggest hurdle she is going to have to get over,” LaBeau said.

Outpouring of support

“All of her family and friends in Farmington have been just amazing and a benefit is planned tentatively for June 10 at the restaurant by the owners of Rascals restaurant in Apple Valley,” LaBeau. Another Farmington benefit will take place in the future before she moves into a new home.

Witnessing the outpouring of support has been nearly overwhelming and humbling, Trites said. Immediately, she received Red Cross support and donations in all forms came from strangers in Hampton, Farmington and area towns.

An online GoFundMe account has already raised thousands to help Caroline begin a new chapter in her life. For now, she is welcomed live with her sister and family in Lakeville. She does not need to worry about finding an immediate home.

“She can find a home later, especially because without the dogs she would be alone and that would be hard in an apartment alone and pretty tough, so she can stay with me and not worry,” LaBeau said.

Her sister said her sister’s giving heart is now reaping what she has sowed for years.

“My sister has a good, caring heart and always cares for other people, and so it is nice to see her getting support coming back and a lot of help,” LaBeau said.

“Now they are helping her and that makes her feel great about all the awesome people because she will bounce back and be ready to move forward because that is what makes her a special person,” LaBeau said.

Time to grieve

“The outpouring of support has been insane and mind boggling with all the offers of help – there were people on the scene with clothing, toiletries and T-shirts,” Trites said.

She needs time to process her loss and grieve the loss of her two dogs, but Trites said the healing will happen and she hopes to discover why she needed to endure this loss.

“I think everything happens for a reason and sometimes it is not up to us and the hand we are dealt,” Trites said. “I just want to deal with it all in the most positive and upbeat manner because I am a person who has been diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and that is a challenge, but I know MS does not have me,” she added.

Not harboring anger or resentment about how life can appear unfair at times, Trites said she is a person of faith.

“I am still here and I can’t let it all get me down and I am trying to move forward in life,” she said.

Trites was relieved nobody was hurt.

“I have my sister, my family, my community and my friends who are all doing everything they can to help me,” Trites said.

Most possessions can be replaced, although she is saddened to have lost her mother’s jewelry, pictures and photographs that she treasures. She also lost some Anna Lee collectible dolls and her winter snow globe collection. But last Christmas she decided to store a few Christmas decorations at her sister’s home.

“Everyone’s helped with offers and the phone calls have been so overwhelming and there are no words because it is truly amazing how people scoop you up when you are in trouble, and it is very generous how all your giving and being generous comes back to you,” she said.

Grateful to fire personnel

Trites said she wanted to thank the compassionate and understanding firefighters.

“They were all trying their hardest to put up a good fight, but unfortunately it was an old building and the building did not win, but they all tried their hardest,” Trites said.

“We would not be anywhere without our police and firemen to help us and I am super proud and thankful for them,” said Trites.

When she stood in shock watching her home’s walls fall down around her, she said “I am very humbled, and I know God has got a plan for me although it can be confusing to us occasionally.”

“There are always a hundreds reasons to give and be good and give back, but you never think you will ever need help because I am a pretty self-sufficient person,” Trites said. “Everyone is there when you truly need help and that is truly amazing.”

Filled with heartache and regret she was unable to protect her pets, Trites said she knows she will rise from the ashes to begin a new chapter in her life.

“I am very humbled because I don’t need things and stuff — I am safe and I am still here and I have an amazing bunch of friends, family and community and I know I am one lucky, fortunate person,” she said.