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Bryan Horwath, Forum Communications, Published November 04 2012

Residents of North Dakota town devastated by fire make new living arrangements

BUCYRUS, N.D. — Taking a break from his work Saturday afternoon, Joey Michels looked around at the site where his mother’s house once stood.

“We’ve come a long way,” Joey said. “Today was a big day. Getting sewer and water in is important.”

Three weeks ago, Joey might have been at his mother Linda Wiskus’ house for a weekend visit. As it stood, Saturday was another day working to get things back to normal.

The new normal, that is.

Since a devastating fire hopscotched its way through this tiny North Dakota town Oct. 17, life has been a little different in Bucyrus.

For Linda Wiskus — owner of one of four homes that were completely destroyed by the 6,000-acre wildfire — improvising means she is planning on staying in the trailer home that was recently purchased and moved to the site where her home once stood.

“It’s been a long haul,” Linda Wiskus said. “The fire was one thing, but everything that’s come afterward has been quite another.”

Linda said she hoped to have all the basics — water, sewer, electricity — up and running and be living in her new dwelling by next weekend.

Saying you’re starting life over is one thing, but the Bucyrus fire victims really had to start over. That’s what happens when you lose basically all your material possessions.

“By the time I was starting to realize this was a serious thing, there was a deputy at my door,” said Verne Milliren, who, along with his wife, Lucy, is staying at a friend’s house a few miles from Bucyrus. “I didn’t get my driver’s license, social security card, nothing. I didn’t have time to grab any of it.”

Linda said she’s not sure what the future will bring with regard to her living situation. For now, she plans to stay in her new home for the winter and probably for a time after that. Verne said he and Lucy are likely to end up living in Hettinger, a few miles from Bucyrus, where Lucy works.

Homes being occupied by Mike and Evelyn Krug and Darrell and Angie Kunkel also were burned to the ground. With cleanup continuing — the remaining foundation of the Millirens’ home was leveled Saturday — long-term decisions are being pondered, but not much is certain for the victims.

“You don’t think anything like this can happen, but, believe you me, it can,” Verne Milliren said. “And it can happen fast. I know things will get better. They have to. You just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and keep going. It’s all you can do.”

Linda said the outpouring of support shown post-fire has been overwhelming.

“I’ve gotten so many donations from friends and family and people I don’t even know,” she said. “People have been really good to us. When everything you had is lost, you take what you can get and you’re grateful for it. Something like this certainly gives you a new perspective.”

With most of the debris from the fire now hauled off, Bucyrus is beginning to look like a town again, albeit a smaller town, if that’s possible. Bookending the homes of Wiskus, the Millirens and the Krugs are a home and the Bucyrus Lutheran Church. Both structures look like they were never touched by the fire.

“It’s getting better here,” Linda said. “You can’t really smell the fire much anymore. It’s just amazing to stand out here and look at the path the fire took. It just skipped around the town.”

Both Linda Wiskus and Verne Milliren said they weren’t sure what the future of the town would be. With benefit dinners, donations from around the area and beyond and a relief fund set up, many have rallied around the victims.

“I don’t know how big it will be,” Verne said. “But I think there will always be a Bucyrus.”