A month ago, Gailyn Wood was painting and wallpapering the three-bedroom Medimont home she had paid off last year.
Today, she lives in a modified school bus next to the blackened wreckage of what had been her home.
“I’ve got nothing,” she said. “I never thought I’d have a fire.”
The March 17 fire destroyed the house while Wood was visiting her father in St. Maries. The property is located outside of any fire district, and neighbors were unable to save the house.
“I came around this corner, and my God, my house was burned,” she said.
Wood had only $10,000 worth of fire insurance. She said it was all she could afford on a $388-per-month income from land she had sold. Insurance is expensive outside a fire district, she said.
“I fought to get a fire district,” Wood said. “I went to the meetings and everything. But you can’t get anything done.”
It’s a refrain that has been echoed by Rose Lake area homeowners for decades.
“They call us up when their house is burning, and it’s not an easy decision to tell the people, ‘I’m sorry, we won’t go,”’ said Dale Costa, fire chief of Shoshone County District 2. “This has been going on for 22 years. That’s how long I’ve been here.”
He says he thinks the recent influx of newcomers has strengthened the area’s desire for fire protection. The district has 40 fire-protection contracts with individual Rose Lake area homeowners, Costa said. Homeowners pay an annual fee - for example, $125 per year for a home worth $30,000. But the growing number of contracts is becoming “a logistical nightmare,” he said.
Costa said Monday the fire district soon will hold a meeting to show locals how to set up a fire district. It would take money and volunteers, he said, but a local station would cut response time drastically. The closest fire station now is in Pinehurst, about 15 minutes away.
“That’s a long time when your house is burning,” Costa said.
A decision would be made by fall, he predicted.
For now, Wood is determined to patch together her life. The Montana native cooks with propane and has jury-rigged a camp toilet in an outbuilding. She carries water from a neighbor’s home and heats the bus with a small woodstove.
“I think the Lord’s judging me, to see whether I can keep going,” said Wood, 56. “I’ll do it if I have to live in a tent.”
Piece by piece, she’s hauling away the burnt wreckage of her home for the past five years. She’s restored power to the site, although she only has one power cord. She can run the TV or a light, but not both.
She’s had some help. A Harrison church collected $300, and the Red Cross provided clothes and cooking supplies. Her son helped dig a trench for the power line. A nephew from Cheney brought clothes and food for Wood’s animals.
“I don’t really know people around here,” she said. “I’m just a homebody.”
A few neighbors brought food, a lantern, water and gas. One family offered her a room in their home.
“But you know how it is, you’ve got to have your own house,” Wood said. “If you’ve got to break and cry, you want to do it on your own.”
The cause of the fire remains undetermined. Deputy state fire marshal Glenn Lauper collected electrical parts at the scene. But he said Monday that an engineer looked at the parts and concluded they weren’t the cause of the blaze. Other lab results are due soon, he said.
Wood blames the fire on a former abusive boyfriend who vowed revenge three years ago. She thinks she saw him that morning, and neighbors reportedly saw a strange vehicle near her home.
“We want to talk to him,” Lauper said.