Family living cramped in FEMA trailer after fire destroyed home

2013-05-13T00:00:00Z 2013-05-13T12:19:13Z Family living cramped in FEMA trailer after fire destroyed homeBy LORNA THACKERAY lthackeray@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Eleven months after the Ash Creek fire destroyed her Ashland home, and nine months after moving in to a 14-by-60-foot trailer, Twilla Speelman is feeling a little cramped.

“We’re jammed together,” she said. “We don’t have the space we had before.”

Residing in the three-bedroom trailer provided through the tribe by the Federal Emergency Management Agency are Speelman; her husband, Steve Killsontop; their four grandchildren and two little dogs.

“It’s really small,” she said of the mobile home, which stands only feet from where her previous trailer home burned. “The bedrooms are very small.”

The master bedroom is at one end and the kids, ages 7 to 13, are crammed into two smaller bedrooms at the other. They found space for the children’s dressers in the hallway. One of the rooms is large enough only for bunk beds.

A tiny kitchen flows into tiny living room in the center of the trailer.

“The kids don’t really talk about it,” she said. “They say they’re OK with it, but I know they’re not.”

While they maybe uncomfortable, Speelman acknowledges that her family is “glad to have what we have.”

In the fearful days of fire last June, the family was sheltered at the Boys and Girls Club in Lame Deer. When the fire was finally put to rest, other refugees went home. But for Speelman’s family and those of about a dozen others, home was a smoldering ruin.

Then began their gypsy summer. After the Boys and Girls Club, they lived briefly with her sister in the Muddy Cluster area north of Lame Deer. From there, they moved to a temporary home, also in Muddy Cluster. It wasn’t a good place for the children and she wanted a permanent residence where the destroyed trailer had stood.

On Aug. 9, she got her wish. The family moved into a FEMA trailer that had been transported to Ashland from North Dakota. It took until September or October to get water hooked up, she said, but the sewer system was installed quickly.

The FEMA trailer was about half the size of the previous trailer the tribe had provided, she said. It’s an expensive place to live, Speelman said, noting that during the winter her electricity bill soared to $350 a month.

“It just wasn’t built for this kind of weather,” she said. “I wish I had the resources to move into a bigger trailer.”

But she works four hours a day as cook for the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Elderly program in Ashland, and saving for a new place to live isn’t possible.

She doesn’t know how long the family will remain in the FEMA trailer. Unless she can find some way to pay for a new dwelling, the family is stuck for the foreseeable future.

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