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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘We didn’t lose everything’: Fire destroyed trailers, but Athol family’s just glad kids are OK

Sally Rogers reacts Thursday as she looks over the burned out rubble that used to be her home while her husband, Joe, looks on at their property in Athol, Idaho.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

ATHOL – Sally and Joe Rogers stand in their driveway and look at what’s left of their home.

They can see the tin roofs and siding of their trailers, like pieces of paper crumpled up and dropped to the ground by giants. A half-melted doll’s head sits atop a blue pancake of plastic that used to be a kiddie pool. Water tanks, bike frames, mattress springs – whatever metal survived is gray or rusted, lying on a bed of charcoal.

“It only took a few minutes to disintegrate,” Joe Rogers said.

His truck, a ’95 Dodge Dakota, rests askew by the edge of the wreckage, windows gone and one tire left. The front of the once-blue truck is black from soot and pink from fire retardant. Silver streams of aluminum, liquefied by the blaze, run over the dirt in front of the truck – they’re remnants of the air conditioning unit, Joe Rogers says.

Sally and Joe lost nearly everything they owned in the fire, but when they look at the rubble they feel grateful.

“We didn’t lose everything,” Sally Rogers said. “We got our family out. … We’ve been blessed.”

The Rogers lived in two trailers on their property north of Athol, surrounded by thick pine and tamarack forest. Their family lived with them too: Two kids and their spouses, four grandkids and Sally’s sister-in-law.

On July 30, the Rogers’ daughter and son-in-law left the trailers to go to the grocery store in Athol. When they came back in the afternoon, they saw a fire inching toward the trailers. The Rogers say they think it was a brush fire, but they don’t know how it got started.

The Rogers’ son-in-law rushed to the trailers to alert the families.

“He kicked in the front door,” Joe Rogers said.

The fire was already within a few yards of the trailers. The first priority, Joe Rogers said, was getting the kids to safety.

“Thank God we got the kids out,” Sally Rogers said. “I’m still having nightmares. … I don’t want to sleep because I’m afraid something’s going to happen.”

The fire was burning on both sides of the driveway when the family members escaped, but no one was seriously hurt – although the heat burned Sally Rogers’ face.

All of the humans in the trailers got away relatively unscathed, but the same can’t be said of the families’ pets.

The Rogers clan had a lot of animals: seven dogs, four cats and seven chickens. The chickens and two of the cats didn’t make it.

“I didn’t have time to think about them chickens,” Sally Rogers said, her voice cracking.

On Thursday, walking about in the burn area, Sally Rogers had to stop and turn around when she got toward the back of her property.

“I can’t go any farther because I don’t want to see my chickens,” she said. “I don’t think I can do that. I don’t want to see the cats either.”

“I don’t want no more animals,” Sally Rogers said, choking up. “I’m afraid of them getting killed.”

Sally and Joe say they were so focused on getting everyone out that they don’t remember much about what the fire looked like. It left the trunks of pine charred about 20 feet high, though, and it browned the needles of some trees.

No part of the Rogers’ trailers remains standing. The heat warped even the steel beam trailer frames. Firefighters contained the blaze before it spread beyond the Rogers’ property.

Since the fire, the Rogers family has been split apart instead of living under two adjacent roofs.

Sally and Joe are staying with their son, Robert, and his wife, Ashley, in Spirit Lake.

“It’s a full house,” Ashley Rogers said. “It’s been great. … My kids love it.”

Other than some irreplaceable family photos, Sally and Joe say they’re not too upset about losing all of their possessions. God does everything for a purpose, they say, and any sorrow they feel is overshadowed by their relief that everyone’s all right.

“We’re just very, very, very thankful to have our family,” Joe Rogers said.

Still, despite their positive attitude, Sally and Joe are facing an uphill battle to return to their property and rebuild. Their homes weren’t insured.

The community has stepped up, however.

A GoFundMe page for the family has raised $17,422.

“It’s just been wonderful so far,” Joe Rogers said.

That money probably won’t be enough to clean up the mess and get new trailers, but it’s incredibly welcome and a great start, Joe Rogers said.

On top of the money, the Rogers’ have received several valuable donations.

Clyde’s Automotive in Athol donated two trailers, which the Rogers can live out of when they’re cleaning up their property and rebuilding. Rockwood Storage in Rathdrum donated a storage unit. A church in Post Falls made quilts for everyone displaced by the fire.

“You can’t express words when people help you,” Joe Rogers said. “God is good.”

Sally and Joe say they’re coming back. They’ve lived here for 26 years. This is their home, and even if it takes a while, they’ll return.

“When you lose everything, you don’t know what tomorrow’s going to be like,” Joe Rogers said. “You just take one day at a time and keep moving forward.”