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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Fire Claims Lives Of Four DeCoursin Family Members

Issue Date: January 23, 2020

Fire of undetermined origin in the very early hours of Friday, Jan. 17 destroyed a home in the City of Oconto and took the lives of the four people in it. Victims have been identified as Katherine DeCoursin, 35, wife of Nicholas DeCoursin, Sr., and their three children, Jeri Leigh Schroeder, 15; Dalton-Joe Schroeder, 13, and Nicholas, DeCoursin, Jr., 11. The family dog, Hagrid, also perished in the fire. Nicholas DeCoursin, Sr. is a truck driver who was driving at the time of the blaze.

A neighbor reported the blaze about 2:53 a.m. Friday. When firefighters arrived they found the home at at 907 Fabry St., fully aflame, according to Oconto Police Chief Mike Rehberg. With the house unstable, engulfed in flames, and filled with smoke, firefighters were not able to enter until several hours after they arrived, according to Oconto Fire Rescue Chief John Reed.

Firefighters remained at the scene throughout the frigid night, battling flames in temperatures that dropped to 7 degrees below zero. The City of Oconto Fire and Rescue team was assisted by fire departments from Oconto Falls, Bellevue and the towns of Little River and Pensaukee. Firefighting crews remained at the site through most of the morning on Friday, and then stayed on to deal with the remains of the building. Survivors in addition to Nicholas (Nic) DeCoursin, Sr., are parents, grandparents and great-grandparents Donna and Joe Schroeder, Lynda and Richard Monske and Dale and Schila DeCoursin; Grandparents and Great Grandparents Alfred Schroeder Jr., Barbara (Cliff) Anderson, Laura Wilson and Lois Pippin, as well as Katherine's sister Bethany Schroeder, brother Bryan Schroeder, and brother-in-law John DeCoursin, plus numemrous other aunts, uncles and cousins in the Oconto and Peshtigo areas.

Funeral services for the victims at Rhodes Charapata Funeral Home In Oconto will be held on Saturday, Jan. 25, starting with visitation from 9 a.m. until time for services at 2 p.m. with Pastor Daniel Sargent officiating.

Cause of the fire remains under investigation by the state Division of Criminal Investigation and state fire marshals. Others investigating were Oconto City Police, Oconto County Sheriff's Office and the Brown County Medical Examiner's Office.

"We've had a couple of fatal fires, but nothing to this extent," Rehberg said, terming it "a tragic loss to the community."

The children were students at Oconto Middle School and Oconto High School. "Our school and community are devastated by this tragic fire," Superintendent Emily Miller declared. "Our thoughts are with the family and with all impacted. I know our district will do everything it can to support the family and the community during this difficult time." Counselors were available at the schools on Friday and Saturday, and emergency counseling is available by calling Oconto County Human Services at 920-834-7000.

The tragedy appears to have hit everyone hard. "When we were at the house that day and the chief of police came by, you could see the tears in his eyes," said Steve Hirschfield, a second cousin to Katherine, who lives in the same neighborhood as the DeCoursins. He told reporters the whole neighborhood was feeling the pain of losing the family. "Neighbors of Kathy, their kids played with her kids, they don't even want to live in that area right now because of the memories."

Hirschfield said to help honor the good memories, and to help the family with expenses, he and other relatives have teamed up with Tracey Bostedt to host a benefit. "We're going to be doing bucket raffles, we have a silent auction, and also a paddle wheel and we'll be doing a 50/50 so we're looking for anything anyone can donate to help out with this cause," said Bostedt. Until closer to the benefit date, items for the fund raiser raffles can be dropped off at his home.

The event is scheduled for March 28 at Crivello's in downtown Oconto starting at Noon. A DeCoursin Fire Fund has been set up at N.E.W. Credit Union locations and people can donate by stopping at branches in Oconto, Oconto Falls, Suring or Peshtigo, or by mailing to The DeCoursin Fire Fund, N.E.W. Credit Union, 301 Jackson Street, Oconto Falls, WI 54154.

Bostedt is no stranger to helping out those in need, often stepping in to help organize benefits, but this one hits closer to home for her.

"I grew up with some of the cousins, so they reached out to me and I said that I would gladly get some friends and family together"we don't like to reconnect because of this, but it's just a good cause to bring everybody together," said Bostedt.

With the other benefits coming up, a Facebook fund raiser started by another relative has now been closed. According to Facebook update comments, that appeal raised nearly $20,000 to go toward expenses for the family, which reportedly was without life insurance coverage.


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