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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Heater ignites pickup, killing sleeping man

A Post Falls man died after a propane heater apparently ignited a fire as he slept in a pickup truck early Saturday morning.

Marty R. Christison, 45, died in the fire about 5:30 a.m. after he and his girlfriend became stuck in a snowbank near Athol, Idaho. Amber R. Gordon, 29, escaped the truck bed and was admitted to Kootenai Medical Center, where she was treated for smoke inhalation.

The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department said the couple’s truck became stuck in the snow about one mile north of state Highway 54, east of Athol. The couple decided to crawl into the back of the truck, which was covered with a light canopy, and sleep until morning, according to Capt. Ben Wolfinger, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department. Temperatures sank below zero, and authorities reported numerous slide-offs along the icy roads.

Gordon told authorities that Christison started a propane heater and went to sleep. About 5:30 a.m., Gordon said she woke to smoke and fumes.

As she escaped the truck, she saw Christison, his clothing on fire, attempt to escape, only to fall back into the truck bed. She fled to a nearby residence, and when firefighters arrived 20 minutes later, the vehicle was engulfed, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

“Those propane heaters just aren’t made for the back of a truck,” Wolfinger said.

Fire investigators spent several hours at the scene Saturday. Wolfinger said the truck had to cool down before the investigation could be completed. A press release from the Sheriff’s Department said, “it appears that this is a tragic accident.”

Christison, a construction worker who moved to the area last year, had a daughter in Boise, according to family members. An avid hunter and outdoorsman, Christison moved to Post Falls to be closer to his mother, who died last year.

Jack Christison, of Emmett, Idaho, said his oldest son put up all-weather siding on homes in North Idaho.

“He said he had more houses lined up than he knew what to do with,” Christison said.

He said the family had little information about the fire Saturday.

“We’re trying to piece together the information,” Christison said. “We just don’t know what happened yet.”

An autopsy is scheduled for early this week, Wolfinger said.