Hamilton firefighter loses home to blaze; fund started to assist family

Firefighters put their safety and lives on the line for the families and businesses that make up the community every time they get the call to gear up and head toward a burning building or emergency situation, but it hits a little differently when the burning home is their own.

On Friday, Oct. 20, the call came, and the page went out — a home was on fire at 815 Vincent Lane, off Skalkaho Road. It was the home of Hamilton firefighter Frank Shambles, his wife Cara and their 20-year-old son.

Shambles received the page while he and his wife were in Missoula. He looked down at his pager and told Cara, “That’s our house.”

Cara called a neighbor and asked if she could see anything, and the neighbor told her, “Oh my God, yes. Your house is on fire.”

The couple raced home to find Frank’s fellow volunteer firefighters battling the blaze to save what they could. No one was home when the fire started, and the home ended up a complete loss. The family’s two dogs, Beretta and Dixie, were lost in the blaze, and they are working with a restoration specialist to see if any of the family’s possessions can be salvaged. The fire is still under investigation, but it is suspected that an old freezer may have been the source. The family is currently staying with Cara’s mother while they make a plan to move forward.

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“To be honest, we are devastated,” Cara Shambles said. “We’re definitely broken. Losing our fur babies is hard. We’re thankful that our family is safe, but losing our fur babies is really difficult and sad, and seeing your house on fire is very difficult.”

The Shambles moved into the home when their son was 7 years old, and have lived in the Vincent Lane residence for 13 years — long enough to build up a mountain of family memories. The family plans to rebuild, but right now they are just taking it day by day.

“We’re just trying to work on to see what the best thing for our family is going to be,” she said. “We will rebuild. We just don’t know what that’s going to look like.”

Frank Shambles has been a member of the Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department since 2010. Hamilton Fire Chief Brad Mohn said that his crew had put out a camper fire belonging to one of his firefighters once before, but losing the home of one of his own was hard on all the firefighters, “myself included.” Mohn said he was grateful to have the support from neighboring Corvallis, Darby and Pinesdale fire departments on the scene.

“In 34 years, this is the first time since I’ve been involved with Hamilton fire that we’ve lost a firefighter’s home,” Mohn said. “It presents a unique challenge, because it’s personal — and me as chief, when I turn around and see the wife of a firefighter on her knees crying in the yard, you have to deal with that situation as well as the fire.”

He’s received a number of calls from concerned community members, and an account has been set up at TrailWest Bank in Hamilton under the name Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department Shambles Family Benefit to assist the family. 

Cara Shambles said the whole thing has been a surreal experience, but that the family is grateful for the support they’ve received from the community since the fire.

“Thank you from us,” she said. “The community is rallying around us and we do appreciate everything that everyone’s done for us and continues to do for us. It’s so much and they’re just so great, and it’s really been the whole community, Hamilton Fire, the Hamilton School District and Hamilton Automotive. They’re definitely doing lots of things, a lot of individuals in the community as well. It’s just overwhelmingly wonderful. I don’t even know how to say it.”

To donate to the Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department Shambles Family Benefit account, call TrailWest Bank in Hamilton at 406-363-1222.