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Tuesday, January 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Nation/World

Blaze Leaves Ex-Firefighter His Home Homeowner Returns To Find House Standing

The chickens flew the coop when it exploded in flames.

Dick Oakes lost the coop. He lost a garage filled with $30,000 of custom woodworking equipment, along with a boat, a sports car, a 35-foot camper and three tons of hay for his new donkey, Jack. He wasn’t sure about his pink pig or 30 of his chickens.

But Oakes still had his home near Red Lake which he and his wife started building three years ago. He still had a bike, an American flag, and some wilted tomato plants.

“We’ll get by, as long as we got the house,” said Oakes, 48. “If we lost the home, if this house was gone, we’d pack up and move to town. I’ve never lived in town in my life.”

The fire that followed Highway 291 on Thursday afternoon chewed up 1,200 acres in seven hours, at least two homes and four smaller buildings. It was capricious, snapping up cars and leaving nearby mobile homes alone.

Oakes’ next-door neighbor wasn’t lucky. Two mobile homes were twisted into metal confetti, a refrigerator became a toasted marshmallow and a half dozen cars were blackened husks sitting on hubcaps. The whole area popped.

“You ever see - what was that movie - they talked about the trees exploding?” Oakes said. “That’s exactly what they did.”

Oakes had been outside working on the barn when the sun turned cloudy. He didn’t smell the smoke, but he felt it. The former firefighter put on his fighting clothes, and his wife, Shirley, drove him 1-1/2 miles to the blaze.

He fought with neighbors and firefighters for about 20 minutes. Then he saw which way the wind was going, and he hurried back home on foot.

Oakes put a sprinkler on top of the garage, a hose on top the house. He roped Jack to the back of his truck and tried to lead the donkey down the road. Shirley Oakes packed up computer disks filled with her business of genealogical research. They loaded up two dogs and two cats.

They got everything valuable out of there. Then Dick Oakes looked up.

“It was just a wall of fire all the way around,” he said. “But I wanted to save my pigs. I had a lot of money in them.”

Firefighters on the highway yelled at Oakes to leave. They were pulling out. He left, and joined his wife at a base campsite for about a half-hour. Then he got itchy.

“My wife was getting so upset,” he said. “I just needed to see the house, to see what happened.”

He snuck away from officials, and walked back to his home. He turned off the chirping smoke alarms, and he grabbed something for his wife before going back. Six chickens were in the back yard, two pigs in their pen.

“I went back and took my wife a Coke and said, ‘This is out of your house.”’

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

Wordcount: 495

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