So grateful: Halverson family appreciates help after fire |

So grateful: Halverson family appreciates help after fire

After a wildfire in Crook County, Wyo. destroyed their home and outbuildings on Saturday, March 6, James and Jessica Halverson are beyond thankful for the generous support of their community, near and far, for keeping them and their children warm, fed and clothed.

“We’re in good spirits and we’ve got everything we could need,” James says, who is the executive director for the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association. “It’s really humbling to see the outpouring of support people have for us, we are good, very well taken care of and blessed.”

Jessica and James Halverson and their three kids. Photo courtesy Halverson family

That day though, the feeling of driving up on their home as black smoke drew near, combined with winds gusting up to 47 miles per hour, was panicking. James and Jessica had been out working on a well that morning and into the afternoon. A phone call from Jessica’s aunt, who had heard over the scanner that there was a fire nearby, had them on alert, but they didn’t see or smell smoke until they were coming out of a canyon, headed home.

“We raced home and tried to gather some valuables, I would say we had maybe fifteen minutes to gather up some stuff before we felt and could really see the flames coming up over the ridge,” Jessica says. “It was a ways from our house but with that wind blowing so hard, it was hard to know what was going to happen and we just wanted to get our kids to safety.”

The fire was started by a slash pile being left unattended in a nearby canyon. As winds picked up, the fire quickly spread, climbing the canyon, the wind pushing the fire directly towards the Halversons’ home.

In the few minutes they had to save precious belongings, the Halversons were able to grab family heirlooms, some guns and a few guitars, but James wishes that he had been more intentional, creating an emergency plan, because in the moment, it was hard to think of the most important things.

“If we could go back and spend two more minutes and save ten more items that really mean a lot to us, we would do that and we could have so easily if we just had a little bit of a plan,” he says. “There are things that money just can’t replace and I would encourage people to have a plan, if just a brief list of those things and where they’re at to get them in a hurry because when you’re in that situation, its really hard to keep your wits about you and to think straight and be calm.”

Jessica says she had a folder with important documents and certificates in it, but when James asked her if she needed any files, she glanced at the file cabinet and could only think, “no, there’s just owner’s manuals in there.”

“I had thought if an emergency happened, that folder was something I wanted to grab, but I’ll be danged if I could remember it,” Jessica says.

Having experience working as a forester in South Dakota before moving to Wyoming, Jessica says that even though their home was set back from the ridge and was not directly surrounded by trees, something that factors into a lot of forest fires and losing structures, there was nothing that could have been done in this situation.

“It was just the wind pushing that fire hard as it came up that slope, it just created a chimney and a lot of heat,” she says. “I always think about how we preach to people what they should do and Firewise is such an important thing, cut trees in your yard and give yourself a defensible space but boy, when you’re put in that situation, you take your own advice a little bit more seriously.”

Thankfully, their livestock and horses are on a nearby lease and were safe from the fire that ended up burning around 100 acres, and most of the chickens returned to their non-existent coop that evening.

“We all came out unharmed and safe so we feel really fortunate for that,” Jessica says. “Most things can be replacedm but lives cannot.”

For the time being, the family has plenty of clothes, warm layers and shoes, as well as a roof over their heads thanks to the generosity of a neighbor’s empty guest house. Others have organized fundraisers, benefit auctions, a GoFundMe account, a Pampered Chef party to set up a new home, as well an account for donations at Sundance State Bank.

“People have blessed us so much,” James says, adding that the outpouring of support has shown him what it means to be a better friend, neighbor and Christian, although he doesn’t feel deserving of it. “I encourage people, when they see others going through things, maybe its not this severe, maybe it’s more severe, that they reach out to them and find creative ways to help them because that’s really what has meant the most to us. Just learning that lesson to try to be a better friend and reach out to people more often is something I am going to take away from this and carry pretty closely for a long time.”

Choosing to see blessings everywhere, the Halversons are thankful to the firefighters who worked so hard to attempt to save their home, fighting literally until the very last moment, and they are happy that the firefighters were able to successfully save another home down in the canyon, adding that they stayed after for days, monitoring the area and continuing to put out hot spots.

“We’re just so grateful for the firefighters, for this community, so grateful for the good Lord that he has provided for us and we’re really hoping in the future that we’re able to give back,” Jessica says. “We just feel so incredibly blessed and its really given us perspective on how we can be better Christians, better family, better friends to others and just to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”

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