Elderly man escapes fire with clothes on his back and one shoe
An elderly man lost his home and everything except the clothes on his back and one shoe to a structure fire on Shane Creek Road that broke out in the brutal cold weather last Friday morning.
John Vandersloot escaped with his life but little else. The fire is believed to have been caused by a propane heater in an attached shed/workshop at the home, said Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger. The home was a total loss, as were all its contents. A cat is also believed to have perished in the fire. However, Vandersloot’s daughter, Nina, told the News this week that a neighbor had reported a cat had shown up.
While Nina said her 87-year-old father is physically fine, the loss of all his possessions – including his wife's ashes – is heavy.
“It’s just devastating,” she said.
There was no insurance on the home due to what Nina called a glitch. A fund has been set up at Altana Federal Credit Union in Columbus for anyone wishing to provide financial help. Nina said the community has already been stepping up with help. She also said her father is now living with her in Laurel but he wants to return to the Columbus area.
The Red Cross had already begun helping Vandersloot replace his hearing aides, glasses and orthopedic shoes, said Nina.
Vandersloot called dispatch at 10:02 a.m. saying he needed help and to hurry, according to Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office dispatch records. A second call came into dispatch from a neighbor who said the house was on fire.
Stillwater County Sheriff’s Deputy Cactus Anderson was first on scene at 10:15 a.m. and found the mobile home engulfed and emitting black smoke.
After placing Vandersloot in his patrol car, Anderson conducted an assessment of the fire, turned off the propane and provided incoming Columbus Fire Rescue crews with directions and specifics about the home and fire.
Columbus Fire Rescue and Absarokee fire crews battled the flames but were not able to stop it due to water issues.
“We were having water supply issues. The tenders that haul water to us were freezing up in the turnaround trips,” said Cowger. “We couldn’t put enough water on it to stop the advance of the fire so it was completely lost.”
Cowger said flames got under the structure and spread the length of the home, but crews were unable to fight it from inside because the floor to kept “dropping” on crews.
Fire crews were on scene for between four to five hours. In the middle, crews had to be shuffled in order to respond to several car crashes on I-90.
Cowger said Absarokee fire crews assisted and eventually took command when Columbus were called to I-90. Park City Fire sent an engine and crew to cover Columbus and responded to a Columbus call as well, said Cowger.