BILLINGS – Early Saturday morning, flames engulfed a home just south of Billings, leaving it completely destroyed and a family left with nothing but clothes on their backs.
The fire at 4013 Snowberry Road lit up the night sky and was visible for miles around. But for the Ballew family, it all started when the smoke detectors went off around 4 a.m.
“I had turned on the lights and seen the smoke and realized it was real,” Lisa Ballew said Monday. Lisa’s husband Ben tried to put out the fire they suspect was caused by an electrical problem in their basement couch.
“My husband ran out of the basement and called for a fire extinguisher because the couch was on fire,” Ballew said. But by the time her husband was upstairs, it was too late to return to the basement. Ben Ballew suffered minor burns in the incident.
The family said it was all over in minutes, but Lisa, Ben and their two teenage sons made it out of the house in time.
But panic set in for the family shortly after escaping the house 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 shooting out of the basement windows.” So it was too late for them to go back inside to search.
But fear quickly turned to hope on Sunday when the family was chatting that morning. Their 13-year-old son was the first to escape the smoking house that morning and he said he also brought a dog 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 5.5-year-old golden retriever. They were advised to warn the public not to call, try to approach or grab the dog if it is spotted. They fear the dog will run away again and instead ask that they be called immediately, no matter what time of day, at 406-698-9922 or 406-839-0308. The dog has no collar.
“The loss is huge, but Pete was a really special dog and it’s heartbreaking. We really hope to get him back, so we have some hope now,” Ballew said.
The family lost everything in the flames but cling to the hope of recovering their only missing family member.
“The hardest part of the whole weekend is thinking that he’s not with us anymore and that we’re a family of five instead of six,” she said.