Hope Rathbun, 35, was only gone for a few minutes, but a few minutes was all it took.
As Rathbun backed out of the driveway of the house she rents in the 100 block of Buena Vista Avenue, she said that she spotted smoke, but wasn’t sure and didn’t think too much of it. She drove on.
By the time she was less than a mile away, it was confirmed: the house was on fire, a family member called to tell her.
The Billings Fire Department responded to the call around 3:30 p.m. with three fire engines and the battalion chief. When firefighters got inside the house, they saw flames coming from the water heater.
Because the fire didn’t seem too severe, one of the engines was called off immediately, said Battalion Chief Boyd Vopel.
Initial observations indicated minimal damage. Although the water heater burned through the floor, firefighters successfully contained the fire to the area. Vopel said there was “a little smoke damage.”
He said the cause of the fire remains under investigation, but that a power strip may have played a role.
After receiving the call, Rathbun hurried home and got her niece, sister, daughter and dog out of the house. As firefighters walked in and out of the house, the family watched from across the street.
Rathbun said she’s grateful everyone’s OK but would obviously be in better spirits had the fire not broken out in the first place.
Rathbun said she rents the place and that she might have renter’s insurance but wasn’t sure.
She said the family had a place to go for the night. They had been living there since last July, she said.