Lake Elmo fire

The Billings Fire Department battles a house fire at 1754 Lake Elmo Drive at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday.

When Vincent Salminen visited the remains of his childhood home in the Billings Heights Tuesday night he struggled with what he saw.

Birthday parties, hangouts with friends, time spent with grandparents, Christmas celebrations, are all tied in his memory to the now severely fire damaged house at 1754 Lake Elmo Drive.

"It's pretty tough," the 31-year-old Billings attorney said Wednesday. "I went there last night and about cried." 

Early Tuesday morning an extensive fire swept across the property, causing what the Billings Fire Department estimated to be $350,000 in damage to their garage, house, and a camper trailer. Eight people, including Salminen's father Shane, were in the house at the time the fire started. They were able to safely exit. 

A GoFundMe online fundraiser launched Tuesday to help the family in the aftermath of the fire. It had raised $4,235 as of Wednesday afternoon. 

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Firefighters arriving on scene encountered "an incredible amount of fire" and downed, actively sparking power lines, said Battalion Chief Darrek Mitchell. The power lines were secured at the scene by NorthWestern Energy. The property and contents of the home were insured, according to a fire department press release.

With the school year about to start, the family has had to move from the severely damaged remains of their six-bedroom home into a three bedroom apartment in the Heights. The children who had been living in the now-empty home ranged from elementary school-age to high school-age. Entire rooms of belongings were destroyed.

"My dad and his wife's bedrooms, everything, except a few things that were salvaged, but mostly everything was gone and destroyed from the water and the roof collapsing in," Salminen said.

Children's clothes, toys, beds and other things were also lost. The GoFundMe page says that the family has ahead of them "the long and arduous process of the insurance claims to rebuild the house, replace clothing, shoes, school supplies, and obtaining sports gear for the upcoming football, soccer, and wrestling seasons." 

Multiple pets were in the home at the time of the fire. They survived, but some only narrowly. 

"The little dog was pretty much dead from smoke inhalation but the Billings Fire Department acted quick enough to give it some oxygen and get it back to life," Salminen said. A guinea pig in the basement was inside the entire time and was found alive after the fire — "Kind of a little miracle," he said. 

Salminen said his father is a survivor and plans to rebuild.

"It's tough, it's going to be quite some time before they have a house again," he said. "They're going to have to bulldoze everything there and rebuild."

He described his father as a registered nurse who has been active in the Billings youth sports and wrestling community, coaching over the years at the Billings Wrestling Club and Billings Skyview High School.

The family remains thankful that nobody was hurt, Salminen said.
"They're really appreciative of the community and the fire department and everybody that's trying to help them out."

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Night Reporter

General assignment reporter for The Billings Gazette.