STRYKER – A week after the fire, 12 stockings were still hanging over the fireplace at Jim and Amanda Pohl’s home in Stryker – each one still heavy with the smell of soot and smoke.
The Pohls and nine of their 12 children had just spent their first Christmas together as a family, when a fire broke out on New Year’s Eve, destroying their home. What wasn’t burned in the blaze was heavily damaged by smoke.
“It’s sad,” Jim said. “I mean this is our home and we had made memories here and planned to make many more.”
But as they walked through the charred remains of their home, Jim and Amanda remained positive and said that this is just a “bump in the road.” In recent days an outpouring of support from the Eureka and Stryker communities has overwhelmed the family.
Originally from Minnesota, Jim and Amanda moved to Montana in 2011 and were married in January of last year. Together, they have 12 children from previous marriages, ranging in age from 3 to 16 years old. Both of them are self-employed; he as a handyman and she as a photographer.
Last July, when the family moved into the home along the Stillwater River in Stryker, they began working on the property in hopes of opening a family campground. They already had a sign erected along U.S. Highway 93 and hoped to open on Memorial Day weekend.
Early on the morning of Dec. 31, an electrical fire sparked in the basement. Jim woke up to the smell of smoke, dressed and opened the bedroom door. He found the entire house engulfed in smoke.
He quickly turned to his wife and told her the house was on fire. The parents ran to the other side of the house to wake the nine sleeping children.
“Get up, get up, get up,” Jim yelled as he ran. Amanda gathered all of the children with just the clothing on their backs and ran for the truck outside. Jim then went back inside to recover his guns and to try to find the family’s two dogs. Meanwhile, Amanda counted the nine children over and over again just to make sure everyone had gotten out of the house.
“We were just bawling and praying inside the truck,” she said.
The family then drove to a neighbor’s house and called 911. Three fire departments responded to the blaze, which destroyed most of the interior and damaged nearly everything inside.
“(The kids) didn’t have a lot to open on Christmas and so to lose what they had was tough,” said Amanda, standing outside the home last week. “It’s just weird to look at; I mean we could have died.”
Since the fire, the family has been staying at a home Jim worked on near Fortine, but they are currently looking for something more permanent. Because they rent their home, they are unsure if they will be able to rebuild.
One positive that has emerged from the fire is the outpouring of support the family has received.
“We never expected any of this support, much less this much support from the community,” Jim said. “I mean we don’t know a lot of people here.”
But that’s just how people in the area, said Heather Greenwood, who owns Pamper Your Pooch in Eureka. After the fire, Greenwood took in the Pohls’ two dogs and has begun gathering household items for the family.
“They’re just the kind of people that once you meet you want to bend over backwards to help. They’re just wonderful,” Greenwood said. “And the donations have been rolling in, everything from furniture to microwaves, to toilet paper and toothbrushes.”
In less than a week, Greenwood had already delivered multiple truckloads of supplies to the Pohl family. A fund has also been set up at Glacier Bank for the family.
“It’s overwhelming, but in a good way,” Amanda said. “We’re really taken aback by all of the people who are trying to help us.”
As Jim and Amanda looked at the burned out house, a fresh layer of snow now covered the ground. Just about everything they owned was either destroyed or damaged, but Jim said it’s only material things.
“I could care less about all the stuff we lost, because I still have my wife and kids,” Jim said. “All the stuff we lost is nothing compared to what we saved.”
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