IDEAL TOWNSHIP -- An Elk River couple, their two young boys and their dog were forced to jump into Lake Ossawinnamakee about 100 feet from their dock after their boat motor started on fire, minutes before the Lowe deck boat became fully engulfed by fire.
Adam and Stefenie Gustafson, along with their sons, Luke, 5, and Joe, 3, and yellow lab named Jack were heading out for a boat ride about 4:50 p.m. Monday when they heard a loud popping sound. The Gustafsons were guests at a summer home owned by Adam's parents, Peggy and Bob Gustafson, of Dayton, who also own the deck boat.
The charred hull was all that remained Monday of the Lowe deck boat owned by Bob and Peggy Gustafson on Lake Ossawinnamakee in Ideal Township. The Gustafsons' son and his family escaped from the boat after its motor apparently started on fire.
Other family members staying in the house looked out onto the lake after hearing the loud sound and watched in horror as flames began shooting up around the boat motor as Adam and Stefenie and their two boys stood inside the boat unaware at first of the fire. They started yelling at the couple and their children that the boat was on fire and to jump in the lake. Peggy Gustafson was on the phone with her husband, who was working in Minneapolis and not at the lakehome at the time, when she saw the flames.
"It was just horrible and they didn't know it was on fire," said Peggy Gustafson, of her son and his family.
"It was frightening for all of us," said Karen Polusny, Peggy's sister who lives next door but was at the Gustafson house visiting when the boat fire occurred. "We wanted the kids out of there."
Adam scooped Joe into his arms while Stefenie grabbed Luke and the couple jumped with their boys into the lake. Both boys had their lifejackets on but their parents did not. Jack, their yellow lab, made sure to grab his favorite toy before jumping out of the boat to join the rest of the family in the water.
Adam's sister-in-law, Jill Gustafson, of St. Francis, got on a jet ski and picked up her frightened nephews. Polusny jumped in the water with a float to give the couple something to hold onto as they swam to shore.
At one point it appeared the burning boat was going to float next to Polusny's dock, the family said. Corey Gustafson, Jill's husband, jumped on their jet ski and made waves to push the boat further out into the lake before firefighters arrived. The Ideal Fire Department responded to the fire and extinguished the blaze.
The Gustafsons said because the hull did not crack, much of the boat's half-tank of gasoline appeared to have burned inside the boat. The boat burned for about 40 minutes.
The Gustafsons said they previously had no problems with the deck boat.
"It's just kind of scary," said Stefanie Gustafson. "It went fast."
"Papa's boat on fire," explained 3-year-old Joe. The preschooler waved to Ideal firefighters as they left in their yellow fire trucks, but not before honking their loud horn for the boys.
Jack never goes anywhere without his "Bird," a dog toy used to train for hunting, the Gustafsons said. The dog apparently knew enough about boat fires to take his "Bird" with him when he jumped from the boat.
"You should have saved my shoes," Stefenie jokingly told Jack as the dog carried his plastic toy around the yard.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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