Family narrowly escapes blaze
Smoke inhalation caused Dustin Long to speak with a gravelly voice nearly three days after the house fire where he and his family lived at 2510 Curley Bear Rd. He said he does not want to focus on the near-miss for his family this last Saturday. He does not want to dwell on how he peered out the back window and it “looked like the sun was rising – it was just – fire.”
He does not want to think too hard about how the family’s last remaining worldly possessions consist of vehicles, a passport, birth certificates, his wife Kara’s immigration papers, his grand dad’s rifle, some tools and a box of family photos. Those same photos made it through the first fire he ever survived, when he was 7 years old – the same age as his daughter Emma and just two years older than his son Judah. The smell – he said you never forget the smell. Reality is setting-in: his daughter misses her teddy bear named Mr. Snuggles and his son misses the toys given to him by Santa Claus. Long wishes he would have remembered to grab his boots. He really liked those boots.
They planted flowers in that yard, hung a flag on the front porch and were living their lives.
“This whole thing just really grounded us and reminded us in a very violent way what is important,” he said. “[The fire] was like something out of a movie,” Long said. “It was insane.”
They were alive and that, according to Long, was a God-given miracle.
“You want to tell me that somebody wasn’t looking over me and my family? There are too many variables in that equation. I am firm in the fact that someone or something was looking over us that night. There’s no doubt. My faith is strong right now,” he said.
They knew they were lucky, but what they did not know at the time was just how much the Big Sky community would rally around them. In shock, it took Long a while before he realized he was just in boxer shorts, standing in the snow. His neighbor ran to her house and brought him yoga pants – he never thought he would ever wear yoga pants.
Those pants were the first gift in a long series over the weekend. Cash forced into his pockets, people showing-up with $500 and $1,000 checks, some he knew and some were strangers. A belt a man took off of himself and handed to Long when he saw Long's pants were too big. Over $17,000 raised via a Gofundme account organized for the family by Michelle Frederick “an angel” in just two days. Lynn Anderson opened up the Country Market to the family and told them to take what they needed. Nearly every restaurant owner in town contacted Long and told him the family was welcome to eat for free anytime.
“This is what America is. This is what Montana is. They rally,” he said. “That –to me – is the most important thing.”
Big Sky Resort, Long’s employer for the past 12 years, immediately placed them in a hotel room at the White Water Inn for free and are having them move into one of the resort’s condos soon.
“I have never felt more loved and appreciated by a company in my life. Every department head, every manager, everyone called us,” he said.
He reiterated that no words really exist that would allow him to express how grateful he is to the Big Sky community.
“Thank you is just not enough,” he said, crying. “People that have reached out – I’ve got 70 text messages. I haven’t even had time to reply to these people. The wagons circled so quick and so many. That’s what I want to focus on more. Just incredible. I’ve never felt more proud or more grateful in my life [than to be a part of this community.]”
Long said he had lost faith in humanity the last couple of years, but it is restored.
“I 100% feel every ounce of positive energy coming our way. It’s humbling and it feels good,” he said. “There’s nothing more important than family, community and country. There are so many people [to thank] I could never imagine living anywhere else the rest of my life. They will bury me here – I will never leave.”
Long said that in these divisive times it is nice to be shown what community really is.
“I hear so many people complain about Big Sky, and some of it is legit. I hate seeing some of the things I’m seeing, but at the end of the day – you find another place in this country that will pull together like we did, and I will be astounded. We are truly blessed, each and every person that lives here. If we take that for granted, we are absolute fools.”
Long had worries when he went to sleep Saturday night – worries that seem trivial now after what they have endured.
“You get into the routine of life and you become complacent about what is truly important,” he said. “An event like this – it reminds you. Don’t spend so much time on the laptop – go cuddle the kids. Go hiking.”
The family took every precaution with their fire safety – smoke detectors, fire extinguishers. Long said they had the whole gamut.
“We took all the precautions we could, people need to be careful,” he said.
“The fire at the Long residence started outside the home in the area of a wooden deck,” Big Sky Fire Department Fire Chief William Farhat said. “While it will officially be an undetermined fire due to the damage in the area of origin (where the fire started), it is believed to have been caused by high winds affecting a container holding discarded smoking materials.”
The Chief noted that this time of year typically brings about house fires, as people turn-on heaters for the first time or use their fireplaces heavily with the first cold snap. October is National Fire Prevention Month.
“As there are many fireplaces and wood stoves in Big Sky, it is imperative for everyone to have their chimneys cleaned and inspected before use every year,” he said. “Most of these fires are preventable and by taking these steps, fireplaces can be used safely.”
House fires in modern homes are hotter and faster growing, making smoke detectors and prompt evacuations very important, the Chief noted.
“The family did evacuate promptly when their alarm went off. It was just after the fire outside of the home finally breached the exterior wall and created enough smoke inside to set it off. Smoke detectors are extremely important and truly save lives as they give enough advanced notice for people to leave a burning structure,” he said.