Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

Fire burns original Clack house on First Ave


Last updated 8/8/2022 at 6:16pm

Editor’s note: This version adds information provided by Havre Fire Department.

Havre Fire Department has provided information about s fire Sunday displaced a Havre family and destroyed a historic home in the community.

Firefighters responded to the fire on the 300 Block of First Avenue Sunday at 4:21 a.m. in the original home of Havre businesspeople and philanthropists H. Earl and Margaret Turner Clack.

Havre Fire Chief Nathan Courtnage declined to comment on the fire by original filing deadline for this story this morning, but issued a release this afternoon with details about the event.

Havre Daily News was unable to find contact information for the residents by filing deadline for the story this morning, but the release from the fire department said no one in the family was injured, but they did lose three pets and all their belongs. The home was insured and they are receiving help from family, friends, and the community.

Michael Cuneo, who lives next door to the building, praised the Havre firefighters who responded, adding that they kept any damage from occurring to his house, which is 10 feet away from the Clack house, also known as The Stone House because of its distinctive sandstone exterior wall on the bottom half of the house.

He said the firefighters were right on top of the fire, and while they couldn't save the house, kept it contained.

"They were excellent," Cuneo said. "They did everything they could."

"It's sad, too," he added. "I think that house was built in 1905. A lot of history."

The fire department release said the department was dispatched to the fire about 4:20 a.m. Sunday.

The release said the family in the home was asleep at the time the fire started, but a smoke alarm alerted them, they were able to get out of the house, and call 911.

The firefighters responding found the two-story home with fire inside at the back of the house and pressurized smoke coming from the eaves. The officer on the scene called a third alarm for all personnel to respond.

After completing a walk around and controlling utilities, the crew was able to get a knockdown of the fire through a rear window. They then made entry into the house through the front entrance and were met with heavy smoke and heat, the release said. The crew was able to gain control of the fire in the basement and kitchen area, but due to the construction of the house, the fire quickly spread into the attic space and walls of the upstairs rooms.

Additional apparatus and manpower arrived, teh release said, and a second crew was sent to the second floor to attack the fire. The fire vented through the roof and all interior crews were pulled from the house for safety concerns. A defensive attack was initiated and remained in place until the fire was under control.

The fire was determined to have started in the basement but the cause is undetermined due to the structural integrity of the house, the release said. The roof of the structure collapsed and the house sustained major fire, heat, smoke, and water damage. It is determined to be a total loss.

The Havre Fire Department had two engines, two ambulances, one ladder truck, one command vehicle, and 10 firefighters respond to this incident.

“The Havre Fire Department would like to thank the Havre Police Department, City of Havre Public Works, and NorthWestern Energy, who responded and assisted during the incident,” the release said, adding, “A smoke alarm saved this family from a devastating outcome. The Havre Fire Department would like to remind everyone to have smoke alarms in all bedrooms and one additional smoke alarm on each level of your home. Check the batteries yearly. Have an escape plan, discuss it and practice it.

Local historian and H. Earl Clack Memorial Museum Manager Emily Mayer also called the loss of the iconic house a sad day for Havre’s history.

H. Earl Clack moved to Havre in 1903 and later that year married Margaret Turner. In 1905 they built the Stone House, and started raising their five children there, Mayer said.

Clack first worked as a hod carrier at Fort Assinniboine when he arrived in Havre, eventually started his own freight business, then got into the petroleum industry, owning wells and his own chain of filling stations as well as other businesses including a chain of hotels, a hardware store and grain elevators.

Mayer said the area where the Clack House was has lots of other history, including being right in front of the townhouse of Havre historic figure "Long George" Francis, cowboy, lawman and reputed cattle thief.

She said Clack's children could see Francis riding by on his way home, which made it interesting.

Clack's half-brother Phil Clack also lived a few blocks away, and he owned the horse "Long George" Francis was convicted of stealing, which led to Francis' death when he was injured during a snowstorm in northern Hill County while en route to visit his girlfriend before turning himself in to serve a prison sentence on the conviction.

Mayer said The Stone House was elegant and very nice inside, although very simple. Despite their wealth, the Clacks lived fairly simply, she said.

"It was a really nice home," she said.

She said the loss of the house is tragic, although she said the fact that the residents made it out helps with the loss.

"It's just just an interesting piece of history we lost yesterday," Meyer said. "We lost a big piece of history."


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