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Arlee family loses home in fire

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ARLEE – The holidays wrapped up in a blaze for a family of seven.

“We lost everything,” Val Dillard said. “The younger kids didn’t even have on shoes.”

A few years ago, Val and her husband Pat took over custody of their five grandchildren ages 4, 5, 6, 10 and 12. The family lived in an older singlewide trailer on Agency Road outside of Arlee. 

“We didn’t have insurance,” she said. “With the woodstove for heat, we couldn’t afford it. We dropped it about a year ago.”

Val was in the kitchen making pancakes with the older kids on Tuesday, Dec. 30 at 8:30 a.m. during a holiday break from school.

“The younger kids came in from the living room to the kitchen and said the living room is full of fog,” Val said.

It wasn’t fog.

“The fire started behind the wood stove. The house filled up with smoke. We left the pancakes and got the kids out. We didn’t even have time to grab the shoes for the younger kids. We tried to put it out with garden hoses but it was too late. The flames were shooting out all over. It went fast.”

Pat cut the fence and let the horses out into the field but that didn’t leave time to move his Dodge truck. It still runs but the left side is scorched. 

“It looks like a burnt marshmallow,” Pat said.

The Arlee Volunteer Fire Department soon arrived along with an ambulance.

“I couldn’t even remember my address when I called,” Val said explaining her state of mind as she called 911. “But they came out. It’s just smoldering now. It’s like a dream. I still can’t believe this is happening. If it weren’t for the kids, I’d lose it. The kids keep me going.”

The family was examined and given oxygen. A pet was also put into the ambulance.

“The cat got singed,” she said. “But it’s okay. We are all okay.”

Val said she started to realize what was gone when she went to get in her car.

“The keys were in the trailer with my wallet and my driver’s license. Everything is gone. The pictures of the family, everything. We filled the freezer with deer meat and that’s gone.”

Val covered her face with her hands for a moment.

“The kids Christmas presents are gone,” she said. “We got the older two kids a TV for Christmas and it’s gone.”

The car keys were inside the trailer next to the door when the fire started. After the debris cooled off, the keys were retrieved. 

“They are all scorched. I can’t use the car key it’s too soft and it might break, but we can get a copy made.”

The family found temporary residence in an empty one-bedroom house next door to what is left of their home. The older children are staying with family members. 

“We would like to find another trailer to put here,” she said. Pat plans to use his logging equipment to clean up the site. 

Later in the week, Val had to go buy shirts for work. She is a cook at the kitchen in the Mission School District in St. Ignatius.

“I love working with the kids at the school and getting them their breakfast in the morning,” she said. “It will be good when we can get back to work and back to normal.”

Pat and Val’s adult daughter Amanda Dillard is organizing an auction and dinner to be scheduled in February to raise money to help her parents. She set up an account at Valley Bank under Val Dillard for donations. Amanda said if anyone wants to donate anything, including clothes for the children or items for the auction, to contact her at (308) 660-9465 or find her on Facebook. 


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