Jan. 17--A Smith Valley area resident more than likely saved the lives of a mother and her young son Thursday morning after a fire broke out that destroyed their home on Kila Road.
Chris Irlbeck said he was on his way to Kalispell when he noticed a glow behind a house on Kila Road near Smith Lake at about 7:30 a.m.
"My first thought was it's a little early for a slash fire. So I went around the corner and backed into the driveway," Irlbeck said.
He went behind the house and saw smoke and flames and started banging on the back door.
"There was no one outside. There were no lights on in the house. I wasn't sure if anyone was home or not," he said.
Irlbeck went to the front of the house and started banging on the door and yelling, but there was no response. He attempted calling 911 but because of poor cellular coverage he had trouble making contact.
He then went through the front door and was yelling but still no response, so he attempted calling 911, being unsuccessful once again, and then he heard a woman yelling inside the house.
He re-entered the home and found the woman, who was looking for her son.
"She went and grabbed him and we all came out at the same time," said Irlbeck, who finally was able to reach a 911 dispatcher.
Irlbeck estimates that it took only 20 minutes from the time he arrived until the house was fully engulfed in flames.
"It amazed me how fast it went," he said. "I'm just glad I backed up their driveway. It just didn't look right. I'm glad they are safe."
Smith Valley Fire Chief D.C. Haas said the woman and her son were sleeping, and if Irlbeck hadn't helped, "it would be a very different story right now."
When firefighters arrived, Haas said they encountered a "very active fire" and Irlbeck and the mother and son were in a pickup truck outside staying warm.
"They were very distraught of course, very upset," he said.
It wasn't apparent they had suffered from smoke inhalation, but the woman and the boy were transported to Kalispell Regional Medical Center to be checked out.
The scene was not cleared by firefighters until about 11:30 a.m., and that was after an excavator was brought in.
"That was mostly for firefighter safety, to move walls and knock down everything so we didn't have any hazard for injuries," Haas said. "The home is a total loss for those folks who were there."
Irlbeck said there was a stove pipe at the rear of the house where the fire started, and it was his "best guess" that the stove may have been the source of the fire.
Haas said the cause officially is undetermined, but Irlbeck "is definitely a witness who saw more than we did."
Haas said the only upside to the incident was the cooperation displayed among departments that responded, which included Smith Valley, Marion, West Valley, South Kalispell, Kalispell and Evergreen.
"I'd call it a professional, cooperative manner, the way they helped each other," he said of an estimated 20 firefighters at the scene.
Drew Buckner, a chaplain who works with local emergency responders, said the family lost everything and would need everything. The Salvation Army and Red Cross made contact with the husband and those organizations will meet the immediate needs of the family.
"The boy is 5 years old and he's going to need everything," he said.
Buckner said the United Way will set up a drop-off for donated items at the Gateway Community Center off U.S. 2 West in Kalispell. Those interested are urged to call the United Way to get instructions at 752-7836. Those with questions about the family's needs can reach Mary, a family contact, at 257-7836.
Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at email@example.com.
Copyright 2014 - Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Mont.