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Holiday house fires impact locals

by Canda Harbaugh & Western News
| December 27, 2009 11:00 PM

Christmas won’t be the same this year for residents who lost their homes and belongings in three separate house fires over the past two weeks.

Troy Volunteer Fire Department put out a house fire Tuesday on Bull Lake Road and Libby Volunteer Fire Department extinguished house fires on Crotteau Road on Sunday and on Highway 2 South on Dec. 12.

David Kingery was down the street from his 2826 Bull Lake Road residence when someone called to alert him that smoke could be seen at his home.

The trailer house with an addition was fully engulfed by the time TVFD arrived, firefighter Darren Coldwell said. Thirteen firefighters with seven trucks fought the flames, but it was a complete loss, according to Coldwell.

Kingery had brought a small propane tank into the house from outside and attached a heater to it. Once the propane warmed, it expanded and began to vent, becoming a torch, Coldwell said.

An electrical malfunction caused the house fire at 803 Crotteau Road, behind Libby Cemetery, on Sunday, according to assistant fire marshal Steve Lauer.

“The cause is something related to the breaker panel box,” Lauer said, “an electrical malfunction in the breaker panel.”

Firefighters didn’t know right away if someone was still in the house. Owner William Foote went down the street to call 911, so he was not present when firefighters arrived.

“We had heavy fire coming from the rear of the structure when we arrived,” Lauer said. “Crews were able to conduct an offensive fire attack – going inside the structure.”

Foote lost the trailer house, though Lauer guesses he was able to salvage some belongings.

Though residents lost many things, they have one thing to be thankful for.

“We’re trying to start over and find a good in all this,” said Lauren Ehlenfeldt, whose rental home burned Dec. 12 with her and her children’s belongings. “Nobody got hurt. That is the best part. We’ll have to start rebuilding.”

Ehlenfeldt said she lived with her three children and a friend of the family in the doublewide trailer at 36977 Highway 2 South. No one was in the house at the time of the fire, but two of their four dogs were killed and two cats are missing.    

The fire began on the home’s wooden deck, according to Lauer, from a bucket filled with ashes.

“They were in a proper metal container but they were placed on a combustible surface,” Lauer said. “It was allowed to continue to heat, and the ashes eventually over time caught the structure on fire.”

The Red Cross offered immediate assistance to Ehlenfeldt, putting her and her family up for three days in a motel. Churches and individuals have dropped off clothing and things for the kids, as well as furniture.

“I’m totally amazed at the outpour of generosity by the community,” Ehlenfeldt said. “I’ve been here six years and I don’t know any of the people that have reached out. It’s a totally uplifting experience.”