Readers of The Prairie Star will be saddened to see a temporary column gap in Ken Overcast’s writing as a result of a fire on Feb. 15, that claimed their home in Chinook, Mont.
Fortunately Ken and his wife, Dawn, were not home at the time and no one was injured. The Overcasts were in Billings, Mont., to attend the MATE show and visit with their readers, fans and friends. Instead, they were awakened from their sleep at 4:30 a.m., by their son calling to tell them their home was on fire and it was a total loss. Ken and Dawn drove straight home to find that assessment to be true. Thirty years of life and treasures were lost in just a few hours.
“When I think about what the phone call could have been, we’re glad it was just our home,” said Ken.
The home, which was made of hand-poured concrete blocks, burned and smoldered for days.
“The concrete walls concentrated all of the heat to the inside and it was just like a big blast furnace in there. The basement burned the longest and it glowed for three nights. It’s only stopped smoking in the last couple of days,” said Ken.
All the crystal and glass is melted into unrecognizable globs.
The photos are gone; the books, the computers, their clothes, furnishings, and even all of Ken’s musical instruments were lost to the fire. The only thing they had was, literally, the clothes on their backs and the few items they needed at the MATE show.
“The one thing we do have are my books. They weren’t in the house, but we will have to retype everything back into the computer. I had made backups of my writing but those were all on a backup drive – which was sitting next to the original computer and both were lost in the fire,” he said.
They also lost a lot of music recordings, licensing contracts, and DVDs. They had just burned a new master DVD of a live performance Ken gave with his granddaughter. They were getting ready to start marketing those but the fire also claimed their newest master DVD. Ken is hoping the man who taped their performance will still have a copy they can access.
“I may have some things in my safety deposit box, too,” said Ken, “but I haven’t had time to go there and see.”
The keys to the safety deposit box were in his house at the time of the fire. “Believe it or not, I did find the keys. I actually kicked them out of the ashes in the basement,” he said.
Firefighters believe the fire was electrical and that it started in the attic or the second floor and burned down from there. The result, Ken said, is two feet of ashes in the basement of his home and little else.
“We are planning on rebuilding,” he said, but a lot of what they do will depend on insurance. “We have an agricultural policy and right now they are saying that our music and writing is not covered under our insurance,” he commented.
They also have a cap on their policy and with the complete loss, Ken is thinking they will hit that cap fairly fast.
“You don’t think you have that much but it adds up once you start figuring in the cost of appliances, and clothes, and all the basic things you use every day to live,” he said.
As usual, Ken was upbeat and even joking about their loss. “I find myself thinking – ‘Oh, I have one of those. That will help. I’ll just go get it.’ Then I remember, ‘no, I don’t have one of those anymore.’ You think something is always going to be there, where you can grab it when you need it; but it isn’t there anymore and now I’m having to think, ‘Oh, now I need to get me another one of those’.”
Ken said the loss has been hardest on Dawn. “I think this kind of thing is harder on the little nest builder. It’s kind of their territory,” he said. “We lost our china that we’ve had since we got married and the mementos from her grandmother. The dollar value isn’t much but you can’t replace the emotional value.”
One treasure that did survive was a gift to Dawn from her late father. “When Dawn was a little girl, her dad served in Korea and while he was there he sent her a little China tea set, with the miniature tea pot, cups and saucers. They had been on the second story of the house and they fell from there all the way down into the basement and not one piece is broken and not one piece is missing,” he said. “All of his photos and medals and uniforms are gone but this somehow survived.”
It was a gift he gave his daughter years ago to let her know she was important to him and that treasured set has, for a second time, managed to become a very special gift. Ken said already friends and family are sharing photos with them and scrapbooks and family mementos to help replace what was lost. The community has also rallied to host a benefit for the Overcasts at the Blaine County Fairgrounds. The benefit will be held on April 6, beginning at 5 p.m.
“So many people are wanting to help and we really appreciate them. I’m learning that to be a good giver you also have to learn to be a decent receiver and I guess that is what we are being asked to learn right now,” he commented.
Currently, the Overcasts are staying in Chinook with their son. “I told him, ‘you lived with me for 16 years so I’ll be here for 15 years and 51 more weeks,’” Ken joked.
“I think that about gave him a heart attack,” he laughed.
The April 6 benefit to help the Overcasts will include a free-will donation dinner, live and silent auctions, a raffle and a jam session with the music provided by Ken’s musician friends. The fairgrounds are located at 300 Cleveland Road West, in Chinook. Cash donations can also be made to First Bank of Montana by calling 406-357-2244.