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LAUREL - The floor and furniture coated with debris and a 2-inch-thick layer of a sooty, spongy mix of ash and damp firefighting foam, Victor and Merry Bachmeier and their family sifted through the rubble of what just 36 hours earlier was their home, looking for anything they could salvage.

"These ones, we might be able to hopefully get them restored," Victor Bachmeier said, holding up a pair of framed family photos. "I hope we can restore them."

Fire destroyed the family's mobile home in Laurel on Friday morning but, despite the loss, they're holding up.

"We're doing ok," Bachmeier said on Saturday. "We all made it out and are alive, thank God for that, which is the most important thing."

The fire broke out at about 5 a.m. Friday in the family's mobile home, at 710 Fir Ave. Bachmeier said that when he woke up to get ready for his job at the BNSF railroad complex in Laurel, he and his wife smelled smoke.

After checking their room and a nearby bathroom, Bachmeier walked toward the front of the trailer, where his 17-year-old son, Timothie, and 9-year-old stepson, Jesse Frazer, were sleeping and noticed the fire.

He woke everybody -- his wife, the two children and his elderly grandmother - and told them to get out of the house.

"I tried calling 911 on my cell phone but it wasn't working," he said. "So my wife, she ran next door and she's banging on the neighbor's window yelling, 'Call 911!'"

The neighbor reported the fire and the family could only watch as flames began bursting from their home's windows.

"It just happened so quick and the flames were everywhere," Bachmeier said. "I went up real fast but it's like it was in slow motion. The fire department got here pretty fast but it seemed like it took forever."

Laurel Volunteer Fire Department firefighters quickly doused the fire, but not before it gutted the home, leading Deputy Fire Marshal Rlynn Halvorson to declare it a total loss Friday.

Investigators have a good idea of what started the blaze - Halvorson said it appears to be unintentional - but won't release it until they make an official determination, likely to happen early next week.

Damage from the fire is evident outside the home, with a large hole burned out in the center of its south side heavy scorching along what little is left of the roof.

But inside is a different story. Large holes in the roof from the fire and efforts to fight it break up the ceiling. Charred household items - games, food, decorations - are scattered about. Just about everything is damaged, destroyed or covered in rubble, ash and drying foam.

Family members, including Bachmeier's parents, Mike and Gloria, rushed to help and spent Saturday giving them a hand.

"We got the call at about five yesterday morning and we hit the road to come from Helena as soon as we got the call," Gloria Bachmeier said.

The family has a list -- one they didn't start keeping until Friday morning -- of people they'd like to thank for helping so quickly and generously after the fire that would likely fill a few pages of notebook paper.

At the top of that list is Pastor Paul McElroy and the Mountain Family Fellowship church in Helena, who gave several hundred dollars to the family. Mark Nielson, a co-worker of Bachmeier's, has been helping them gather and haul donations, and employees from BNSF and Chemtron have offered support.

His brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Cathy Bachmeier, have already given them a new couch. Merry Bachmeier's sister, Donna Lyons, is gathering donations from her home in Alaska, and Victor's sister is doing the same in New Jersey.

Pastor Bob and Pam Evans, also from Helena, have offered support and the American Red Cross of Montana has put the family up in a local hotel for the next few days and gave them a prepaid debit card loaded with money. Wal-Mart donated clothing, the Laurel ConoMart gave them a gas voucher and Christina Linguista gave them a bunk bed. An anonymous woman named Dorothy donated furniture and other items.

The list goes on, including the Laurel police, fire and ambulance services, but the Bachmeiers said the entire community has been extremely supportive.

"Thanks to all, no matter what you did to help," Gloria Bachmeier said. "Whatever, whoever, thanks to everybody who helped and donated."

As for her son and his family, they're now trying to find a new place to live after spending 2.5 years in the trailer. Bachmeier hopes to get that worked out soon but, in the meantime, is simply glad everybody's alright.

"It means a lot for us, that everybody's OK and how much the community's helped out," he said. "Mostly though, I want to thank God, all praise to Him, that we're still alive."

 

 

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