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Fire recovery fundraiser draws large crowd

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ARLEE – The Arlee school cafeteria buzzed with laughter, chatter, and children playing — but the lighthearted event was born out of tragedy. 

On Jan. 21, Jamie and Jack Sievers’ barn was reduced to ashes and the family lost beloved livestock. The barn wasn’t just a building. Jamie raised show pigs for her children and 4-H participants from around the area. She also took photos of clients in front of the barn as part of her photography business. Her four young children once played among the animals that were lost in the fire.  

Three show pigs, 10 chickens and an entire litter of piglets were lost in the fire. Two pigs escaped, one of which was pregnant. In a Facebook post, Jamie described her devastation over losing her pigs.

“Our pigs were more than just livestock, they were our pets,” she wrote. “I swear, I spent more time with them than I did people. There aren’t many 500 pound animals a 5-year-old-girl can walk or cuddle with.”

Jamie’s best friend Lindsey O’Neill helped to organize the benefit held at the cafeteria. She said she has organized benefits in the past and was always impressed at how many community members got involved. “This is one of the great things about living in a small town,” she said. 

According to O’Neill, the family does have insurance, but it won’t cover the full cost of rebuilding and replacing what they lost. 

The event, which drew an estimated 150 attendees, featured a spaghetti dinner, a silent auction, and a live auction. Items donated to the auction included a fire pit, a football signed by the Grizzly football team, and a leather saddle. 

Ten-year-old Tannon Weller, of Frenchtown, knows the family because he got his first 4-H pig from Jamie last year. He said he chose his pig, Peanut Butter, because she was big, muscular, and friendly. Helen Weller attributes the pig’s good qualities to having grown up playing with the Sievers children. Helen said she hoped the funds raised at the event would help the Sievers family build a new barn. “Jamie has been so helpful to the 4-H kids. How could you not want to support someone who is so nice?” Helen said. 

The Sievers children, Brylee, age 11; Maylee, age 5; Colt, age 3; and Ryle age 1, all attended the event. Jamie said she was surprised there were so many people at the fundraiser. “We are overwhelmed by the generosity,” she said. 

The family is still in the cleanup phase but they are planning to rebuild their barn and their herd. The barn rebuild will have to wait until the spring. The pregnant pig that escaped the fire is healthy and her babies are all right. Jamie wrote in a Facebook post that she cried happy tears when she felt the babies kick. The litter is due Feb. 17. Since the fire, the cause of which remains unknown, Jamie has purchased a sow that is due Feb. 16. Though she worries about having enough pigs for all the 4-H kids who rely on her supply, Jamie is looking toward the future with a supportive community behind her. 

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