BILLINGS — Early Saturday morning, flames engulfed and destroyed a home just south of Billings, leaving a family with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
The fire at 4013 Snowberry Road lit up the night sky and was visible miles away. But for the Ballew family, it began with the smoke detectors going off at around 4 a.m.
“I had turned on the lights and saw the smoke and realized that it was real,” Lisa Ballew said Monday. Lisa's husband, Ben, tried to stop the fire they suspect started from an electrical problem in their basement couch.
“My husband came running up out of the basement and asked for a fire extinguisher because the couch was on fire,” Ballew said. But by the time her husband had gone upstairs, it was too late to get back into the basement. Ben Ballew did suffer minor burns in the incident.
The family said that it all happened within minutes, but Lisa, Ben and their two teenage sons made it out of the home in time.
But panic set in for the family shortly after escaping the home when they realized they only had one of their two dogs with them.
Ballew said, "By the time we had already left the house we could see flames just shooting out of the basement windows." So it was too late for them to go back inside to search.
But the fear soon turned into hope Sunday as the family was discussing the fire. Their 13-year-old son was the first to escape the smoking home that morning and he said he had also brought a dog out with him.
“And he said the dog that left with him ran down the road,” Ballew said.
So now the search is on for the family's 5-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever.
They've been advised to warn the public to not call for, try to approach, or catch the dog if spotted. They fear the dog will run away again and instead, they ask they are immediately called, no matter the time of day, at either 406-698-9922 or 406-839-0308. The dog does not have a collar on.
“The loss is huge, but Pete was a really special dog and it’s heartbreaking. We’re just really hoping to get him back, so we have a little bit of hope now,” Ballew said.
The family lost everything in the flames but are hanging onto hope they will get their only unaccounted family member back.
“The hardest thing throughout the weekend is to think that he’s no longer with us and that we’re a family of five instead of six,” she said.
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