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Montana family picking up pieces after home burns down

Huntley home
Posted at 2:42 PM, Dec 22, 2022

HUNTLEY PROJECT - A Huntley Project home erupted in flames early Tuesday morning, and although the occupants managed to make it out alive, the family has been left stranded with only the clothes on their backs.

The fire in the trailer home started around midnight, according to the family. All seven managed to escape but were forced to sit and watch in the cold as the fire destroyed their home and all of their belongings.

If she hadn't been jarred awake by the smell of smoke, mom Desiree Coles knows their current tragedy could've been a lot worse.

“As soon as I saw the flames, I screamed for him to wake up," Coles said. "Alex woke up, and he was like, ‘what’s going on?’ I said, ‘go get your brother up and get out of the house’ because the house was on fire."

Her husband, Andrew Gartside, said it was a shocking way to wake up, and he was grateful that they made it out safely.

“I was trying to wake up and trying to see if I could put it out," Gartside said. "I got dressed and then I started grabbing stuff. I should’ve just started breaking windows and throwing stuff out."

It's a nightmare that has been intensified by the extreme cold. The family is now scattered around Billings. Two of the five children are staying elsewhere, but Desiree, Andrew, and three of the kids are staying at a cramped hotel room at the Montana Trailhead Inn.

It's been a whirlwind last couple of days that's made Coles thankful for her community.

“It sucks, but I’m glad I live out in the Huntley community," Coles said. "There’s been a lot of support and a lot of donations coming in."

Coles works at the Blue Cat Bar in Huntley. Her coworkers are among those in Huntley that have sprung into action to help by setting up a MealTrain site for the family. They are also encouraging all donations be dropped off at the bar.

“They lost everything: pictures, photo albums, even the smallest stuff," said Miracle Stapp, one of Desiree's coworkers. "It seems like they’re just getting a leg up and they got kicked back down but we’re going to try and make sure that they just keep getting up."

For longtime coworker Hannah Morken, the decision to help out was an easy one.

“Desiree is an amazing woman, a hard worker, honest, she would do anything for anybody," Morken said. "Losing your home and everything right before Christmas and you know with kids. Nobody deserves to go through that."

And the giving has already begun. When MTN visited the Blue Cat Wednesday afternoon, there were already piles of donations for the family.

“It takes a lot to make me cry and seems like I just want to burst out and cry," Gartside said. "It’s just been overwhelming."