Frank James said he was a firefighter for 15 years, so he knew he had only seven or eight minutes before his trailer on U.S. Highway 93 burned to the ground after the chimney caught fire on Jan. 4.
"Thank God I wasn't asleep when it happened," James said.
James called his neighbor and landlord, Earl Waite, to help him with the fire. Waite and his son Jeremy rushed over and joined Eric Maxwell, another neighbor, outside the home. The men reacted fast. They set up a ladder and Maxwell climbed up with a shovel. Earl Waite said Maxwell used the shovel to "throw down" snow into the chimney.
"I wouldn't recommend it, but they had a flat roof and they saved the property," Larry Garey, incident commander for the North Custer Rural Fire District, said.
Garey recommends that anyone caught in a structure fire leave the area immediately. He said a mistake that often gets people hurt is they think they can contain the fire and remove personal belongings before the whole place goes up. Garey said James's situation was a rare instance were the victims of the fire had it under control by the time the fire department arrived.
"They did what they felt they had to do," Garey said.
Garey, who will become the district's fire chief in May, said the fire occurred around noon that Saturday. After the fire was called out and the volunteer firefighters did their sweep, the last unit pulled out about 1:30 p.m.
Waite and James estimated about $4,000 of damage to the trailer. Waite said the fire started because the wood stove was improperly fitted to the ceiling. James said the damage was mostly contained to the ceiling. He said the task has turned to clean up and repair, which Waite said he intends to help with.
"Frank's an old guy and he can't afford the damages so we'll help him, me and Jeremy," Waite said.
"If this is the most exciting thing that happens to me this year I'll be happy," James said.