By Michael Somerby EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – In the wee hours of Sunday, Sept. 29, tragedy struck the Long family when a house fire engulfed the young family’s home, forcing an evacuation and leaving Dustin and Karla, along with their two children, effectively homeless.
With the assistance of the Gallatin Gateway and Yellowstone Club fire departments, the Big Sky Fire Department team managed to extinguish the blaze within four hours of its reporting at roughly 12:30 a.m. But by that time the damage was already done; while uninjured, the four Longs and their dog lost almost everything to the two-story structure fire.
Yet a silver lining has appeared along the seams of this terrible blow to members of the community, revealing a deep network of compassion and support amongst residents.
Less than 48 hours since the fire was extinguished, neighbors of the Longs and various other Big Sky residents have rushed to their aid, providing housing, gathering supplies and clothes, and also spearheading crowd-sourced financial assistance in this extreme time of need.
The Longs were originally given a room in the Whitewater Inn along Highway 191, and have since been put up by Big Sky Resort in a Lakeside Condo while the family assesses their needs and begins to rebuild their life.
Launched the day of the fire, a GoFundMe campaign built by Michelle Frederick, a six-year employee of Big Sky Resort—where Dustin also works, has raised more than $17,725 as of publication, well in excess of the $10,000 goal originally set out by Frederick.
Neighbor Carrie Bryan, who stood by the Longs in those dark, cold hours, opened a bank account on behalf of the family at American Bank, giving those lacking tech savvy the opportunity to deposit money with the Longs later withdrawing the funds as they need them.
“It should make it really easy to immediately access the money that way, and they don’t need to necessarily go through GoFundMe,” Bryan said. “I suggested that the branch open an account, so people who can’t or don’t want to use a computer could also contribute.”
Bryan has also been collecting donated goods and clothing from neighbors, friends and the larger community, and said the Longs were obviously shaken by the events.
According to Big Sky Fire Department Fire Chief William Farhat, while there isn’t total certainty as to the cause of the blaze, there is evidence to suggest “smoking materials” may to be to blame.
“The investigation is complete, and it’s going to be an undetermined cause,” Farhat said. “But it’s believed to have been started by discarded smoking materials that were stoked up by the day’s wind.”
He also noted that because the fire started outside of the building, the family was given ample notice from the smoke detectors as the fire breached the building’s walls, a potentially lucky break for the Longs considering the blaze outside reached two stories high.
“There was a significant amount of damage,” Farhat added.
The events are a stark reminder of the random and sudden disaster anyone can experience, but serve as an even better example of the resolve and strength of a small mountain community on the rise.