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From the ashes

The Sundance Times of Sundance, Wyoming

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A new home in a single weekend for family who losf everything to a fire

Two months ago, Kasey Flynn and Larry Smith woke with a jolt as lightning ignited their house and started a fire that engulfed it completely. Left without a home but determined not to leave their beloved land, it took the kindness of a community and a team of friends with one purpose in mind to set the family back on its feet.

Help came in the form of a brand new home, constructed over the space of a single weekend. The effort was spearheaded by three of Smith's friends from his hometown of Luther, Michigan: Sig, Barb and Mike Johnson, as well as eight additional friends who descended on the land with tools in hand.

"Everything just came together so fast. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have another stick built house," says Flynn.

"If you'd had a time lapse, you could just see it: they got there Friday afternoon at about 2:30 p.m. and at least by 3:30 p.m. they were already doing the construction. By Monday they had packed up and left — in 40 hours, they had that thing put together."

The Johnsons were unable to rest easy knowing that the family would be stranded during the coldest part of the year, Flynn shares.

"They thought we were coming to town for the winter and then, when they found out differently, Sig said, well we can't do anything till spring. He went to bed that night and he says he couldn't sleep thinking that we didn't have anything to live in for the winter," she recalls.

"He said they were putting something together as far as getting all the materials and everything. They brought out two flatbeds full of materials and then their work trailer, it was just totally amazing."

Members of the community also chimed in, with Cecil Jones donating the wiring work for the home and helping with construction, Todd Mclnerney helping with the outside of the house, Jerry Jones providing use of his portable sawmill and Ray Hanson, Smith's boss before his retirement, donating two semi loads of logs to finish the house.

"We're going to still add on in the spring or maybe yet this winter, if we find a contractor. It's small, our living quarters is 16 x 16," Flynn says.

"Every bit of the money was all donations in order for us to even get that far. By the time it's all done with it will be 32 x 40 — it will be a little bigger than my old house."

The home cost just under $9000 to construct, she says, all of which came from the community, friends and family back east and benefits by Maria Waugh in Hulett and at the Dime Horseshoe Bar in Sundance. After just one weekend of construction, it was ready for the family to move in to.

A crack in the night

Support from the community began to pour in on the night of the fire itself, which began in the early hours of September 5.

"There was an explosion, but my conscious mind has blocked it out; my subconscious apparently heard it, because it made me get up. My husband had heard the explosion and he sat up in bed and so he immediately was getting dressed, and then he knew he had to crawl to get out," Flynn remembers.

"The neighbors saw two bolts of lightning hit. The first one hit our place; the second one hit probably behind the hill."

Flynn believes the lightning hit a propane tank by the house, next to the smoker grill, and probably caused a second tank to ignite.

"This happened between four and four-thirty. I came outside, because I walked into the kitchen and thought, I don't remember starting the wood stove just to burn papers," she says.

"The house was full of smoke, but it didn't dawn on me — my nose wasn't even working yet. I thought it was kind of light in there and looked, and right out the peep inside the kitchen, the fire was already inside the house."

By the time Flynn walked outside to see what was going on, the west side of the house was engulfed and the shed next door was glowing. She and her husband were able to exit safely but, unfortunately, three of their four pets were unable to escape.

"I noticed none of our critters were outside and so I was going to go back into the house. I got over there where my bedroom window was and I finally got the window open, and then I kept hollering and hollering," she says.

"I would have gone back in, except the smoke slapped me in the face and it was too dark to see."

First on scene to respond to the fire were Moorcroft Fire Department and Dallas Rolf, with five pumper trucks. Sundance Fire Department followed later.

"We knew there was no way they could save the house — you kept hearing explosions going off inside," Flynn says.

"I ran outside and all I had was my night shirt on, no shoes, and I ran around for hours and hours like that because my adrenaline was raging."

By the time daylight came, the family's neighbors could see that something was wrong. They began to arrive, Flynn says, asking if there was anything they could do or give to help.

"People were bringing money and clothes and food," she says.

That night, Flynn and Smith stayed in Hulett with Waugh, who Flynn describes as like a sister. That, however, was the only night she spent away from home.

From that moment until the new house was completed, Smith and the couple's son slept in town as Smith is on oxygen, while Flynn slept in the shower house.

"I said I'd sleep in my truck if I have to I'm not leaving," she says.

Looking to the future

"It's so wonderful to be able to have a house to live in again," Flynn says.

"We had no smoke alarms — shame on us. I already got one [for our new home] and every room in the house is going to have another, I don't ever want to go through this again."

Flynn still misses the home she spent so many years in, but she is determined to look to the future and move on.

"I accepted it first thing — I can't dwell on the past, you have to move forward," she says.

The experience has also taught Flynn a thing or two about her community, she says. The money raised and the new home took a huge burden from the family's shoulders; now, she says, it's time to give back.

"You never realize how many friends you have until a tragedy happens," she smiles.

"We always try to be there for other people and with all of the stuff people have given us, I can turn around and give back to our community as well. I have more clothes now than I've ever had in my life... so I can pass much of it on to somebody else or give back to the Budget Shop and Food Pantry."

Meanwhile, Flynn will never forget how her friends, family and community responded to the tragedy.

"I was in total awe, it's overwhelming. With all of the friends and family sending stuff out and sending money, we were so very fortunate to think that we could rebuild — that we had enough money donated to rebuild," she says.

"We're so blessed to live in the community that we live in because we might fight and squabble amongst ourselves, but we're there for each other in a crisis. That's what you're supposed to do."

Copyright 2015 The Sundance Times, Sundance, Wyoming. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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