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Lacking Insurance, Family Loses Possessions To Wildfire

Kathy Matlock held her two children like crutches as she walked up the driveway to her home.

It was twisted metal, carved into grotesque modern art by a wildfire that had roared through the West Plains on Sunday.

Matlock’s mobile home was fire fuel, plucked from a handful of homes that still stood Monday on Whispering Pines Road about four miles north of Airway Heights.

“It’s everything we own, right here,” said Matlock, 38, looking over the scorched, smoking landscape.

Almost everything was gone.

A mangled videocassette recorder sat near a tilted bathtub. A dryer was thrown several yards from the washer. A garden hose was charred rubber. A bike’s tires were burned off. Mattress frames and coils were tangled together.

Melted by the intense heat, the metal roof looked like a wrinkled sheet.

Everything was smudged shades of gray and black, except for a colorful ceramic statue of Mary holding Jesus, broken off at the bottom.

The fire destroyed a collection of ceramic Little Rascals’ busts. It stained glasses brown, burned letters and left a cheese grater in the middle of a mess.

The family had lived in the home about a year, after purchasing 10 acres with the help of an inheritance from Matlock’s late ex-husband. The mobile home cost about $7,000, with another $7,000 in remodeling.

“All we got is the clothes on our backs,” said Matlock, who wore jean shorts and a “Face It” T-shirt.

“No insurance,” she said. “This trailer was up for sale.”

Kathy, husband Rick Matlock and their two children planned to move into Spokane for the winter, after suffering through high heating bills last year. Eventually, they hoped to build a home.

“When I was in the ninth grade, I designed a house for a school project,” Rick Matlock said. “I always kind of wanted to build it.”

Kathy Matlock owns Catch A Dream, a downtown business that sells Native American arts and crafts. Rick Matlock works in the warranty department at Evergreen Engine Exchange.

“I lost my wedding ring,” the 37-year-old man said. “That’s what bothers me the most, I guess. I put it in some cleaner to clean it … I lost the video of our wedding.”

He heard about the fire while selling drag-racing tickets at Spokane Raceway Park to make extra money. He ran to the top of a hill, carrying a friend’s binoculars. After seeing the smoke, he drove home.

At first, the fire wasn’t a threat, barely in view. Then it raced across the slight hills and valleys so fast he had to leave, quickly grabbing some photo albums and rounding up their pets: a cat, five kittens and four dogs. He left a sprinkler running.

Meanwhile, Kathy Matlock was in Spokane at a friend’s house, relying on calls from her husband for news.

Her son Jeremy Muilenburg, 15, drove home after learning about the fire. When Jeremy arrived, the home was engulfed in flames, except for his mother’s bedroom. He grabbed his football and his sister’s bike and put them in the back of his friend’s Bronco.

“I was gonna get my dad’s stuff,” Jeremy said. “But it was all gone.”

Jeremy’s father, Tom Muilenburg, died two years ago at age 37 after suffering an asthma attack. The boy lost all of his father’s pictures, CDs, records and clothes in the fire.

Crystal Matlock, 11, lost her Aunt Dot’s jewelry and a letter asking when she would visit. Her aunt died a year ago.

The fire was capricious, turning some trees into black wind-swept sculptures and leaving others green. Puffy dandelions were everywhere. The flames left most homes alone, racing so quickly that they skipped some tinder-like grass entirely.

The Matlocks slept at a friend’s home in the Valley Sunday night. They weren’t sure what they would do next.

“I don’t know,” Kathy Matlock said. “I don’t want to look at this place for a while.”

, DataTimes


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