Through his binoculars, 4-year-old Reagan Hofer watched firetrucks crisscross the hill above Lind on Friday afternoon, stopping to hose down hot spots from the fire that nearly burned down his family’s home and threatened the entire town.
The fire was reported just after 11 a.m. Thursday a few miles outside of Lind, a town of 535 people in the middle of Adams County.
With winds of 20 to 25 mph, the Lind fire moved quickly, arriving at the edge of town less than an hour later.
Kevin Starring, fire chief of Adams County Fire District 2, said four homes and a number of outbuildings were lost in the 2,500-acre blaze. The number of homes burned was thought to be higher Thursday, but dropped as fire crews surveyed the damage Starring said. A final count has yet to be completed.
“Some of it is luck,” Starring said of how much of the town they were able to save. “Some of it is our volunteers. Our guys are tough.”
One Adams County firefighter was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation Thursday and released later that night, Starring said.
Firefighters from around the state responded quickly to help Starring’s crew of about 20 volunteers battle the blaze.
The fire burned hot and fast, and was completely contained by Friday morning, with firefighters focused on extinguishing the occasional hot spot. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but Starring said he believes it was started by accident.
“I just cannot stress enough how thankful I am for all the agencies that came,” Starring said.
After leaving their Hutterite community just months ago, Junia and Wes Hofer struggled to find a place to start their lives over.
Wes Hofer found a job hauling wheat for a local farmer, who helped the couple find a home nestled on the hill above Lind. The couple and their three children, Taylor, 11; Colton, 9; and Reagan, 4, moved in a month ago.
As they settled into their new neighborhood, the sound of firetrucks rushing to nearby blazes became a common occurrence, Junia Hofer said.
This week alone, she heard firefighters responded to three fires in as many days, she said.
On Thursday morning, Junia Hofer’s friend called to let her know there was a fire a few miles from town headed their way. Junia Hofer called her husband, who said not to worry – the local firefighters would handle it.
As the flames approached town, the situation became more dangerous, Junia Hofer said. Her husband called back and told her to put sprinklers on the house and in the yard.
Junia Hofer rushed inside to ask her kids to help place the sprinkler, but no one responded. When the children finally appeared, it turned out they had been praying for the fire to be stopped.
At about noon, Wes Hofer, his boss, and co-workers arrived to find flames within feet of the couple’s shop. Sheriff’s deputies told them to evacuate, Junia Hofer said.
The men, joined by local firefighters, brought pumper trucks and fought back flames until it became too dangerous, then they too evacuated down the hill.
Not longer after, through the smoke, Junia Hofer said they saw the house was still standing and rushed up to see if they could save it.
“They came in at the nick of time,” Junia Hofer said.
While the men fought the fire, Junia Hofer waited and worried with the children.
“I knew our men were in there facing death and fire,” she said.
The situation was intense, her husband told her. At one moment, the group of men thought they might not make it out of the wall of flames.
Somehow they prevailed, saving the house and shop but losing two chicken coops and part of a small shed. The houses on either side of the Hofers burned.
When Junia Hofer and the children arrived back home, they found Wes Hofer and his friends covered in soot and their house standing, undamaged.
“They were all blacker than the fire,” Taylor Hofer said. “I think they’re guardian angels.”
With so much change and turmoil in their lives recently, Junia Hofer said, their home surviving feels like a miracle.
“Everything about our story shouldn’t have happened like it did; it doesn’t make sense,” she said. “Everything about our story was written by God.”
As the fire slowed down, Fire Chief Starring called Cheryl Haase, a local bar owner who often does community outreach, and asked, “Can you handle the food?”
“Pretty soon this place was full of food,” Haase said, motioning to Haase’s Tavern, which had food spread across every flat surface Friday morning.
Last summer, another fire sparked by a train chugging by had Haase in the same position, handing out food to the first responders who stopped the blaze from reaching town.
That community connection led Haase and a group of friends to gather diapers, clothes and food for families in need for a monthly giveaway. With the pushiness of a loving grandma, Haase gets even the shiest of neighbors to take what they need.
So when Thursday’s fire threatened the town, she knew just who to call.
“I got my crews,” Haase said with a chuckle.
In a matter of hours, they had sandwiches and water ready for the dozens of firefighters and deputies arriving in town.
They worked all night. Then Friday morning, the leftover food and donations from the Red Cross shelter at the nearby Ritzville Grade School arrived. People stopped by all day to grab a bite to eat, and the group made deliveries to people whose homes were damaged or lost.
“These little towns pull together hard,” Haase said.
Heather Reed, who owns Wheat Lind Coffee House, offered free coffee to first responders, while crews could grab water, ice and other supplies from Jim’s Market. Everyone helped how they could, Reed said.
Haase and her friends started putting together care packages for families who lost their homes, and hope to raise money and meet other needs at a community barbecue planned for Aug. 20 in the town’s park.
It’s best to wait until then to donate physical items, Haase said, because many displaced families don’t know what they need quite yet. Haase speaks from personal experience, having lost everything in a house fire six years ago.
The local volunteer firefighters, deputies and other first responders’ hard work kept the town safe and prevented even more houses from burning, Haase said.
“I’m very proud of them,” she said.
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