Posted 10/13/15 (Tue)
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
It definitely wasn’t the phone call McKenzie County Sheriff’s Sgt. Max Matthews-Kasner was expecting or wanting while he was away from home at a Search & Rescue Conference in Jamestown on Friday, Oct. 9.
“Everyone was calling to tell me my house was on fire,” said Matthews-Kasner. “It was about 4 p.m. on Friday that the fire broke out. I was away at a conference and my girlfriend, Megan Theis, was working in Williston at the college. Our two-year-old black lab, Luna, was home at the time. She was found under the bed in our guest room. She died from the smoke, but thankfully, she wasn’t burned. My girlfriend is taking it pretty hard. We could care less about the property, it’s the dog.”
Luna, Matthews-Kasner and his girlfriend’s two-year-old black lab, was an anniversary gift from Matthews-Kasner to his girlfriend last year, on Oct. 19. The couple was celebrating four years together at that time.
“Lieutenant Mike Ficken found her in the guest bedroom,” said Matthews-Kasner. “Thankfully, she didn’t get burnt. She just went to sleep.”
Matthews-Kasner says they will cremate Luna, then decide what to do with her ashes. Maybe spread them out in the field, since she was a hunting dog. Matthews-Kasner said it was a sad day on Saturday because it was the opening day to Pheasant Hunting and Luna wasn’t there anymore.
According to several individuals on the scene, including Matthews-Kasner, the fire is suspected to have started in a kitchen corner, near the stove. Many are guessing it was an electrical fire. The house, and specifically the kitchen area, was so badly damaged, that the cause of the fire may not ever be determined.
The fire gutted the entire mobile home Matthews-Kasner and his girlfriend had been living in for almost two years, in Dakotaland, located in Alexander. The Alexander Fire Department, McKenzie County Sheriff’s deputies, North Dakota Highway Patrol troopers, McKenzie County Emergency Manager, an ambulance crew, and management from Dakota Land all showed up to fight and assist with the fire Friday evening.
“My maintenance guy and myself were on the scene first,” said Mark Spader, general manager for Dakotaland in Alexander. “We were there while it was burning and were one of several individuals who called the fire in. This is the first fire we’ve ever had in Dakotaland and I sure hope it’s our last.”
Spader said the Alexander Fire Department was very responsive and came as fast as possible with their water truck. According to Spader, Dakotaland is very supportive of law enforcement in their housing development. They have the Homes for Heros Program, and currently house six to seven law enforcement families - everyone from Highway Patrol to Sheriff’s Office to Border Patrol officers.
“We’re very thankful to all of the fire department guys,” stated Spader. “We’re very supportive of our law enforcement and first responders. We try to do everything we can to help them out.”
Spader says that Dakotaland has already gotten Matthew-Kasner and his girlfriend into another place that is furnished. The couple’s home had about half of their own furniture, which burned, and the other half came with the furnished mobile home when they moved in.
“We have to go through everything to see what is salvageable,” says Matthews-Kasner. “We lost a lot. It just depends on what can be cleaned off and what can’t. Right now there are five mobile homes running our clothes through washers and dryers. Each load has to go through the cleaning cycle three times each to get rid of the smoky smell.”
Some of the valuable possessions Matthews-Kasner and his girlfriend lost include items that can never be replaced. Matthews-Kasner’s grandfather’s painting. The couple’s pictures. Theis’s late-father’s possessions that were stored in a special box. And their lab.
“We just need support right now,” said Matthews-Kasner. “The support so far has been awesome. We really couldn’t ask for much more. I really just want to stress the overall support from not only law enforcement, but everyone in the community. They’ve been really awesome.”
Saturday morning, Oct. 10, an extensive group of volunteers gathered at the remnants of what used to be Matthews-Kasner and his girlfriend’s home to help clean and sort items. Volunteers included everyone from Dakotaland, the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office, the Watford City Police Department, the North Dakota Highway Patrol, the McKenzie County Emergency Manager, a task force, and community members. The groups started at 9 a.m. and worked all day, into the evening.
Dakotaland bought lunch for the helpers. The deputies’ wives and girlfriends were cooking and assisting the couple. And the Wild Bison Truck Stop management showed up on-site to donate clothing, meal tickets, water, and other needed items for the couple. They also informed the couple that they were going to hold an event on Wednesday, Oct. 14, where they would be raising money for the couple at their truck stop.
“This morning, there were drones of volunteer help,” said Karolin Jappe, McKenzie County Emergency manager, of the volunteers who showed up Saturday morning. “There’s a brotherhood in law enforcement that I didn’t really know existed until last night and this morning. The truth of the matter is that this could have happened in the middle of the night while they were both home. In most electrical fires, the smoke kills long before the fire does. It was just incredible the amount of help and support that was out here this morning.”
A GoFundMe account has been set up online for the couple at https://www.gofundme.com/er62b3gw. So far, as of Monday, Oct. 12, the site has raised over $7,000 of the $10,000 goal.