Elizabeth Doney Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
A local woman, Jeni Ratliff, living with her parents, Lance and Jan Zuelke, and grandmother, Frankie Zuelke, about five miles south of Havre, and her children lost all their personal belongings in an electrical fire July 30. The fire, which officials said originated in one of the wall outlets, consumed an 8’ x 14’ bedroom and its contents. The remainder of the trailer, located east of Beaver Creek Road, suffered enough damage to prompt the family to move into a house they were building nearby earlier than anticipated. They moved in last Tuesday after speeding up the plumbing and electrical work on their new home, Ratliff said. “We do have a place to stay, we have electricity and water. We are just trying to do all the finishing work, flooring, trim and the basement where our new home is. I am going to stay in the basement until I find a place in town,” Ratliff said. She had previously intended to rent the trailer from her parents after they moved into their their new dome home. Ratliff, a MSU-Northern student, was the only one home when she smelled the stench of burning rubber. Her and her children’s room and belongings that were destroyed in the fire. Ratliff said she first went to check in the kitchen, then outside to see if there was something burning. When she didn’t see fire or smoke at either place, she began checking the rooms. “I felt to see if the door to my room was hot and it wasn’t. So, I opened the door and right there in the corner, there was a fire,” Ratliff said. “At first it started small but then with everything in there and it being a trailer it went up fast. I lost all my personal belongings.” Ratliff said she ran to the sink to grab some water and put it on the fire. Next she grabbed the fire extinguisher, but by then the smoke was “horrible.” “By the way the smoke was rolling out, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to save it,” Ratliff said. “I called 911 and went outside to grab the garden hose. At the same Time I was calling my mom. I couldn’t just sit back and watch my house burn. I was thinking about my kids’ photographs, my kids’ clothes. I was worried about my grammy’s room that was right next door.” Ratliff said she soon noticed a car approach and Mark Leeds, who was building a house nearby, came to assist Ratliff with the putting out the fire. “Jodi Manuel and the Gregoires they always have full trucks of water so they came and helped, too,” Ratliff said. “We also have combiners who have full trucks, so we had a lot of help, even being so far out of town we had so much help.” The Bear Paw Volunteer Fire Department got the call about 6:15 p.m. and responded as well, Fire Chief Greg Gregoire said. “We had five trucks that responded to that fire one tanker (3,000 gallons) and four light brush trucks (200 gallons),” Gregoire said. “It took an estimate of 2,000 gallons of water to put the fire out. We also had support from private people neighbors mostly. There was a lot of people out there helping.” The Bear Paw Volunteer Fire Department, located south of Havre, dispatched eight firefighters and had the fire completely out and mopped up by 7:45 p.m., Gregoire said. “We determined that it was an electrical fire an outlet got hot and didn’t kick off the breaker. The outlet continued to get hot until it caught on fire,” Gregoire said. “It appeared to be an electrical problem off a wall outlet. The location of the outlet and the amount of damage that would melt it down completely shows that’s where the fire most likely started. The wiring leading to that outlet appeared to have been overheated real bad.” The extent of the damage Everything in Ratliff’s bedroom, from family photographs to clothing, the hallway and all electronic equipment in the trailer was destroyed Ratliff said. The fire was contained to one room, but the entire house had smoke damage. “My parent’s stuff, my grammy’s stuff, all my kids’ clothes, all my clothes, my purse, my cell phone, my bank statements, everything. Everything is all gone,” Ratliff said. “The electronics were damaged. The value of everything in my room alone was quite a bit. It’s close to $10,000 just for my belongings. My kids lost their beds, dressers, shoes and clothing, everything was in the room from socks, underwear to winter coats were lost.” Ratliff has two small children, Austin, 6, and Marissa, 3, and when she is not in class, she works at Great Northern Best Western and the Duck Inn. Lance Zuelke works at Heberly Engineering, a firm specializing in fiber optics and cable lines. Jan Zuelke works for the Northern Montana Care Center in Havre. Community members who want to help replenish Ratliff and her children’s lost belongings can make donations to Jeni Ratliff, 7013 Beaver Creek Road, Havre, MT 59501.