By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A family of four lost most of its belongings after a second-story apartment at the Budget Inn Motel caught on fire Sunday afternoon.
"We didn't lose everything, but we lost a lot of stuff," said Red Shappart, a roofer whose family was renting the two-bedroom furnished apartment at the motel, on the east side of Ninth Avenue between First and Second streets.
"I don't have a whole lot of things, but what we do have is ours, you know what I mean?" said Shappart's wife, Jody Stuker, a housekeeper at the Best Western Great Northern Inn.
Their belongings were not insured, she said.
The couple has moved temporarily to a motel room at the Budget Inn, free of charge. Nathen Stuker, 14, is staying with Stuker's grown son, and another son, Anthony Stuker, 13, is staying with a friend.
Among items ruined in the fire, Shappart said, were their clothes, a recliner and table set, a new television, a PlayStation 2, his work boots, his wife's stereo and compact discs, and his grandson's set of toy cars. There has been no official estimate on the value of the lost things, he said, but he estimated it is $2,000.
"I really don't care about all that stuff. What I care about is where we're going to live," said Shappart, adding that he doesn't have money to find the family a home.
Budget Inn owner Kurt Johnson said he has no vacant apartments at the motel.
The family was gone when the fire started. Shappart and Stuker walked to lunch about 2 p.m. Sunday with other family members. Anthony and Nathen were with friends.
When they were walking home, one of Anthony's friends, who lives across the street from the motel, drove by and told them their apartment was burning. They rode with him back to the Budget Inn. The fire was out by the time they arrived, but nearly all their belongings had been damaged by smoke and their apartment was unlivable.
"It doesn't sink in till you get there," Stuker said today. "It's the kind of thing that never happens to you, you know?"
Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said the fire apparently started after a worker who was applying exterior waterproofing to the apartment balcony with a propane torch left to take a break. When the worker returned, Sheppard said, the fire was burning.
"I don't know what exactly happened there. Apparently heat from the torch started something," Sheppard said. The worker will not face charges, he said.
Loretta Lindeman, a bartender at The Shanty, said she looked out the open door of the bar on Sunday afternoon and saw a "big ball of flame" on the balcony of the apartment.
The fire was burning on the northern end of the deck and spread to the walls and ceiling, she said. She said she was worried about the "leaping flames" spreading to the roof.
The Fire Department received a 911 call at 2:35 p.m. and six firefighters responded to the scene, Sheppard said. They extinguished the fire "within minutes," and did a search of the apartment, he said.
No one was in the building at the time of the fire, he said.
Johnson said today he has not yet received a report on the damage to the room, but that there does not appear to be much damage on the inside.
"I think we can fix her up," said Johnson, who added that the motel is insured.
Shappart and his family are not so lucky.
The family moved into the apartment this winter, expecting to move on to Boise, Idaho, this summer for work. Shappart is a roofer who follows hail storms around the country to get work. Stuker is from Havre. They had been saving a little money to make the trip to Idaho.
Now, he said, he doesn't know how they'll get there.
"If anybody, anybody could find a little kindness in the heart, we could sure use it, because we don't know what the heck we're going to do," Shappart said.
"It's just kind of like a nightmare right now," Stuker said.