MISSOULA — A carelessly tossed cigarette started a fire that caused $100,000 in damage to a group home on Tulip Lane in the Rattlesnake Sunday evening, Fire Marshal Gordy Hughes said Monday.
All the home’s residents and staff escaped safely and no firefighters were injured as the blaze sent plumes of smoke and flames through the roof.
Hughes said the fire started outside the home’s east side and spread to the attic through a roof gable vent. It was active by the time fire crews arrived, said Battalion Chief Joe Toth.
“It was a stubborn fire but the guys did a good job,” Toth said.
Neighbor Jackie Newman said flames consumed the house quickly. She spotted the fire from her backyard across the street.
“There was a plume of smoke and I thought, ‘That’s a little much for a barbecue,’ ” Newman said. “You can’t believe the smoke coming out of that area. I’ll tell you it was the nastiest smoke.”
By the time crews had most of the flames knocked down around 7 p.m., much of the home’s roof was caved in. Nearby trees had blackened leaves.
Newman’s husband, Howard, said 15-foot-high flames were coming from the roof at one point.
The Newmans brought lawn chairs and bottled water out for the residents.
Staff members said the residents were unhurt but anxious.
The Newmans praised both the firemen and the group home’s staff for their quick response.
“The people who take care of the residents know what they’re doing. They got them out all right,” Newman said. “I’m sure it’s devastating. It’s so sad.“
A staff member, Emily VanOstrand, said the group home residents practice fire drills often, with the goal to have everyone out in 30-45 seconds. She said this afternoon’s evacuation took “30 seconds, tops.”
The home is run by the Missoula Developmental Service Corp., which cares for adults with severe developmental and intellectual disabilities. The nonprofit has several group homes around Missoula.