Woman loses home to fire after pickup shears gas meter from trailer

2014-05-14T14:30:00Z 2014-05-15T07:05:09Z Woman loses home to fire after pickup shears gas meter from trailerBy CHRIS CIOFFI ccioffi@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

It was a calm Wednesday afternoon for trailer No. 5 resident Vonda Hotchkiss, at home with her rat terrier mix dog and her godson, until she was rattled by a noise.

"There was a loud bang," Hotchkiss said. Seconds later, "The little neighbor boy told me there was a fire and his dad's truck had hit my trailer," she said.

The pickup ran into a gas meter on the trailer, putting officials at Newman elementary on high alert and prompting an evacuation of homes in the Jewel Court trailer park on South Billings Boulevard.

The driver of the truck got out before flames overtook the truck. His name has not been released.

The 1:54 p.m. fire prompted police to stop traffic in both directions on South Billings Boulevard as four engines, a ladder truck and a firefighters ran a hose across the road to douse the flames.

The truck had sheared off the gas meter below the emergency shutoff valve, which required Montana Dakota Utilities workers to bring in a backhoe to dig a hole and pinch the main line that supplies gas to the whole trailer park, said Battalion Chief Ed Regele.

The department kept the fire down with hoses while utility workers repaired the line.

Hotchkiss was unnerved as she watched firefighters use a power saw to remove a large chunk of the trailer's wall to keep the flames down.

"Oh my god," she said. "I guess it's a total loss." She said she would stay with family in Billings.

Kory Schreier, his sister Myndi, and their dog, Mac, watched the fire as they waited for the go-ahead to return to their trailer.

Myndi Schreier said she heard the accident that caused the gasline break. "I heard a loud bang, and that was it," she said.

"I was in the shower when the fire broke out," Kory Schreier said.

Newman Elementary, which is next to the trailer park, was put on high alert, said Principal Travis Niemeyer.

"The kids were in the hallways getting ready to go home," Niemeyer said. They implemented a drill called "shelter in place." All students on the north wing of the building, the side closest to the blaze, quickly filed into the gym. The students on the south wing, were ordered to return to their classrooms.

As more information about the fire got to the school, Niemeyer moved the students to the south side hall of the building, just in case.

"It was just a cautionary measure because flames can jump and move around," he said.

All students were dismissed from the south side of the building, and the ones who walk home, were escorted to Newman Lane well away from the fire.

According to a press release from the Billings Fire Department, damage to the home and contents is roughly $30,000 and the home is considered a total loss. Neither the home or the property were insured.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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