Choteau community reeling from Tuesday's apartment building fire, but staying strong

Choteau building destroyed by fire
Choteau building destroyed by fire
Choteau building destroyed by fire
Fire in Choteau displaces apartment residents
Fire in Choteau displaces apartment residents
Posted at 10:13 AM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 12:13:01-04

CHOTEAU — The town of Choteau is still reeling from a fire that destroyed the Gunther apartment building on Tuesday. All residents of the building were accounted for by late Tuesday afternoon; two people were taken to Benefis Teton Medical Center in Choteau to be treated for burns and smoke inhalation. There were no reported injuries among emergency responders; sadly, several pets perished in the fire.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: A GoFundMe account has been created; it states: "Opportunity Bank has set up a donation account and is matching the first $2,500 donated and Neighbors Helping Neighbors will match the second $2,500 to help these displaced members of our community." Click here if you would like to help.

Apartment tenant Raelene Beauregard said on Wednesday, “We were sitting there and all of a sudden we heard this bang- this boom - and I didn’t think anything of it, I thought they were just working on the apartments or something... I mean my whole identity is gone. My driver's license, Social Security, everything. It’s all gone. My kitties are gone. I was able to save my dog— but not my kitties and it breaks my heart knowing that— that that happened to them.”

Joseph Ripley's dog Thor perished in the fire, too. The loss of the beloved pets makes Dalton Watson even more grateful that his dog survived. “She’s all that mattered. So yeah, I couldn’t be happier, lost pretty much everything else but knowing that my dog got out, that’s good enough.”

Apartment manager Susan James says the loss of the building wiped away some of the memories she had of helping her father renovate the apartments in 1985: “It was like watching another part of him leave again, a lot of history and stuff, and it just really was hard to just watch it burn up and not being able to do anything.”

James has opened the doors of the Big Sky Motel to seven of the 16 residents that have been displaced by the fire, with the help of the American Red Cross, which is footing the bill.

Red Cross spokeswoman Shellie Crebeling explained, “Our goal is to help the residents find a permanent solution to being displaced and so we offer resources to find them a new rental. We help them along the way with some financial assistance. The residents who didn’t have a place to stay they’re in one of the motels here and we are providing meals and lodging and we will be doing some case work today to see what their further needs are.”

On Tuesday night, Choteau mayor Chris Hindoien posted on Facebook a "thank you" message to the community; here is an excerpt:

The Incident Command system worked extremely well and my personal thanks to the IC Team. The professionalism of all the VFD’s made you look like full-time career firefighters. Training paid off.
Our EMS and DES people were amazing as well in support of all who were on scene. Thank you Debra Coverdell and volunteers as well.
Keith Van Setten and the Teton Sheriff staff, outstanding work today with all that was going on. Your deputies were top notch at keeping the situation as calm as possible.
The American Red Cross has been here to help with those displaced. All families have been short-term placed elsewhere.
Jesse Oldham and “SALLY 1” my appreciation to you for rounding up a crew and making the trip up to support all who helped fight this blaze.
As we see what is happening around the nation, it never ceases to amaze me that 1680 +/- people can put aside issues and rally for one great cause. There truly is nothing this community cannot take on and handle when we come together as one.

Firefighters from several communities battled the fire, including Choteau, Fairfield, Sun River, Pendroy, and Augusta. At this point, the cause of the fire has not been determined; the state fire marshal is assisting with the investigation.