HILL COUNTY, Mont. (NMB) – Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson has announced that it was his home that burned down 28 miles northwest of Havre last Wednesday night.
Peterson says that he was sleeping when the fire started and didn’t hear a smoke alarm, but he was able to get out of the house just in time.
“The house is a total loss. It’s basically a basement with some metal and ashes in it. And it happened quick. From the time I woke up until it was fully engulfed, it was minutes. The fire trucks were there within (about) 10 minutes of the call…they were there quickly. But by that time, it was already fully engulfed.”
Peterson says this can happen to anyone, so people need to make sure they are prepared if this situation were to happen to them.
“Check your fire alarm, every three months change the battery…Those are very important things. And more than one fire alarm would be good. I don’t know what woke me up. I don’t have a clue. But with that much smoke, your mind doesn’t function very well. Be a creature of habit. Put your phone in the same spot every night. If you need glasses, put them in the same spot. That’s the only way I found my phone and my glasses, is they were in one location, and they’ve always been there. Because even with the light on in the bedroom, I could not see very clearly. We can use this to educate people…Have your route planned. Your best route is the one that is closest.”
Peterson suffered from some smoke inhalation, but says he is doing better now.
“When you take in that much smoke, it does affect your brain. You don’t think as well as you used to before, and it takes time for your system to clear all of that smoke out. The good thing is, my hair is darker now.”
He says while some of the things lost in the fire are replaceable, many are not.
“The simple little things. When my grandson was only a few years old and went to kindergarten, he put his hand on a sheet of paper and they drew around it and cut it out, and then put yarn on it the length of his arm that said ‘I love you this much.’ Those kind of things, you can’t replace. Material things are all replaceable. They may have some sentimental value, but they are all replaceable if you want to. But records, awards that I’ve received in the past, paperwork and stuff, they’re gone. Just different things, and they are mostly paper. Yeah, I lost a lot of other stuff. But in 10 years when I’m gone, it wouldn’t have been worth anything to anybody.”
One of the two vehicles lost in the fire was a Big Bud Tractor that he was planning to give to Ron Harmon of Big Equipment to display. Other treasured items included pencil sketches from close friends and a Texas Instruments calculator he bought when he was a senior in high school.
“That was a lot of years ago, and I paid $99 for it. That thing was really high powered. It could even do square roots. And it’s gone, and it was still working. And that was made right here in Havre, Montana.”
The house was originally built back in 1912, and Peterson had lived their since 1981. He hasn’t decided if he’s going to rebuild the house yet.
He says the support he has received in the last week from the community has been overwhelming, as he has been offered a place to stay or other help from many people.
“The people in this community are just unbelievable. They’d give the shirts off their back to help people. It’s just wonderful. But you’ll take a person like myself, and there are many out there, they’ll give anything, but they really struggle to accept things from other people. That’s one of the hardest things to do is to accept something from somebody. And yet, you’ll do anything for somebody else, and you just need to get over that thought and be humble and accept stuff when it’s offered to you, because they are doing it because they care.”
The cause of the fire remains unknown.