A young couple, their 10-month-old daughter and two dogs were embarking on a new adventure, moving to Bigfork from Philadelphia, Mississippi, when things took a sudden and scary turn.
Adreanna Evans, 20, and Brandon Evans, 28, packed everything they owned into the biggest U-Haul rental truck they could find. Adreanna’s father, Dustin Ferguson, offered to drive the truck on a 33-hour trip, and the couple and their daughter led the way in another vehicle.
The crew already had an adventurous journey making a stop to see family in Arkansas for Christmas and getting caught in the heart of a snowstorm near Hardin that forced them to wait on the side of the road. They were on the homestretch in Deer Lodge when the unthinkable happened.
“Pull over! Pull over! The U-Haul is on fire,” Ferguson shouted over a two-way radio.
His daughter thought he was joking.
“Then I looked in the mirror and saw him skidding to a stop in the ice,” Adreanna said.
Smoke and flames were at Ferguson’s feet before he jumped out of the truck. A good Samaritan pulled over at the same time. Adreanna’s first reaction was to grab her puppy out of the crate in the cab of the U-Haul. Brandon was able to grab two duffel bags from the back of the truck. Ferguson and the bystander threw bottled water onto the truck.
“Just when we thought we might be getting it, we ran out of water and within five minutes the whole truck was engulfed in fire,” Adreanna said.
The family didn’t know if the U-Haul would blow up as they called 911.
“You don’t know how to react. It’s hard for everything to register,” Brandon said. “You feel helpless because you just have to watch until the fire department gets there.”
“At first I was in shock. And then tears came, because I was thinking about all that was in there.”
Everything the couple owned was gone. But everyone was safe — their baby had slept through the whole ordeal in the couple’s vehicle.
“The greatest thing is we are all still alive,” Adreanna said.
In the days following the fire, the Evanses said they’ve tried to keep a good attitude about things, making little jokes like “At least we don’t have to unpack.”
They said they got insurance on the U-Haul, but are unsure how much they will be reimbursed or when it might come.
“A common reaction people have had, is it’s stuff, it’s replaceable” Adreanna said. “Some of it is, and some of it isn’t.”
On top of all their household and personal items, the couple lost their birth certificates, Social Security cards and sentimental items.
Adreanna’s grandmother had given her about 20 antique porcelain dolls over the years, and her grandfather had made a shelf for them. The family had loaded them with winter clothes and toys for their daughter for Christmas just days prior. This is the second time Brandon has lost everything. His house was ruined in Hurricane Katrina, he said.
The couple has work lined up in Montana, but they said it’s going to be a process to regain everything they need. Flathead Valley community members have been generous, they said, offering homemade quilts and even providing them dinner. The Evanses said they aren’t considering setting up a fundraising site but are seeking to purchase used items to help them settle into their new home.
“We do not want handouts because there are people in way worse situations than us,” Adreanna said.
They will focus on moving forward in 2018.
“We have the whole year to make it better,” Brandon said.
Reporter Breeana Laughlin can be reached at 758-4441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.