See more of the story

Beloved Twin Cities area actors Reed Sigmund and Autumn Ness are grateful to be alive, and for the outpouring of community support they've received since their brush with fate.

A fast-moving fire gutted the family's Stillwater home on Tuesday as they were preparing to leave for work on shows that are opening soon. Sigmund is acting in "Hello, Dolly!" at Theater Latté Da and Ness is in "Corduroy" at the Children's Theatre.

The inferno started in the first-floor laundry room after they had put some wash in the dryer.

Smoke pours from the Stillwater home of Reed Sigmund and Autumn Ness.
Smoke pours from the Stillwater home of Reed Sigmund and Autumn Ness.

Reed Sigmund

"I smelled what I thought was the toaster, like someone had left a bagel in the toaster and it had a little burn to it," Ness said Friday. She quickly discovered the source of the odor: "a 3-foot flame on the wall behind the dryer."

Ness yelled "fire!"

Sigmund, who had just come out of the shower and was wrapped in a towel, ran upstairs to call 911. The flames spread quickly and upward.

"I thought that I could make it upstairs, put pants on and grab a shirt to head out our front door for this was all happening by our back door," Sigmund said. "When I turned and looked back, the entire upstairs hallway was filled with black smoke. I took one breath, got a breath full of it, and it burned."

He ran into his son's bedroom.

"When I tried to open the window the lock jammed," he said. "I punched the window and broke it."

Sigmund climbed out to the low roof, then jumped down onto the back porch, where he saw his dog, Kermit. He began to panic because he could not see his wife and was not sure if she had made it out. They reunited in the front yard.

"I've never been happier to see someone," Sigmund said.

The couple's sons, Sawyer, 13, and Sullivan, 9, were at school.

"We've tried to keep them protected from it and have not taken them inside," Ness said.

A fire-damaged room in the home of Twin Cities acting couple Autumn Ness and Reed Sigmund.
A fire-damaged room in the home of Twin Cities acting couple Autumn Ness and Reed Sigmund.

Autumn Ness

Sigmund and Ness have been members of the Children's Theatre acting company since 2002 and have performed in more than 100 shows, often together. It was only weeks ago that Sigmund wrapped up his fifth turn as the Grinch in "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," a show in which Ness played Mama Who. They spoke Friday as they drove to pick up new keys for their vehicles. The fobs melted in the fire. They are staying in temporary housing with meals provided by neighbors and the Twin Cities theater community, which has rallied around them.

Elissa Adams, Latté Da's associate artistic director and a former new play development director at the Children's Theatre, rushed to their Stillwater address while the fire was still raging. Ditto Dean Holt, a fellow Children's Theatre company member.

"It's just been overwhelming — to be swept up in all this generosity," Ness said.

The immediate community embrace has helped them maintain their good spirits.

"When we got out, neither of us had shoes on," Ness said. "First thing the neighbors did was offer us shoes and coats."

Sigmund escaped in a T-shirt.

"There were some Xcel Energy guys working on our street and one of them gave me his shirt," Sigmund said. A neighbor gave him sweatpants for which he was grateful, even if they proved a little tight.

"When Autumn saw me, she was like, 'Omigod, are you wearing jeggings?' I'm a little bigger than my neighbor."

Sigmund is back in rehearsal.

"I should make it very clear, at no point was I pressured to come back," he said. "Everyone said, stay at your not-home and take all the time you need to figure things out. We have an audience coming up in just a few days and I wanted to be there."

Ness intends to go back to rehearsal Saturday.

"In 'Grinch,' there's a line that Christmas will always be as long as we have we," Sigmund said. "The celebration of life will always be here regardless of possessions."

The couple plan to rebuild on the site within a year. In the meantime, they have moved from one short-term housing place in Stillwater to another in Woodbury.

"It's an old house from the 1880s that has good bones — that's what we've been told," Ness said. "So we're going to keep the footprint.

"The history will not survive but it will feel good for us as a family to open the door at the same address, look out into the same backyard and have the same feeling."