Sunday, December 26, 2010

Up In Flames

In the early morning hours on May 8, 1957, a bolt of lightening changed the lives of the Bill and Lillian Knutz family of Beadle county, South Dakota.  They were my grandparents.
Below, left: the newspaper account, as it appeared in the May 8, 1957 edition of the Huronite and Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota).  Right, the incident as related by Bill’s mother, Elvirta Knutz, in her diary:
Fire“Tuesday night an electrical storm came up and a bolt of lightening struck Bill’s house; they knew it struck but didn’t know it set a fire so they went to bed. It struck about 12 and about 1:30 they all woke up smelling smoke.  Bill went out for a look, Betty did too they saw the kitchen-roof was a blaze; Betty opened the stair door, it was full of smoke and 1 wall was on fire. It just happened the kids and all slept down stairs because of the storm which was a good thing; for they would have been trapped up stairs. Bill was going to phone for the fire department but the phone was burnt out also the electricity. Lillian and the kids carried out things; Bill did too when he got back. Mrs. Ted Walters phoned to us about a quarter till 2 so we went over. They run out of water and so they couldn’t save the house, they broke out windows and carried out things. Everything up-stairs burnt, so did everything in the kitchen and bathroom; some things were saved in the (living) room, some burned. The kids’ clothing all burned except what they had on; Betty was without shoes and Donny had his pajamas on, no shoes. Before we left the scene of the fire some neighbors came with clothing. Every one were helping with donations of clothing, canned goods, cooking utencils [sic], towels, and wash-cloths.”
My mother, who was a teenager at the time of the fire, said the house was actually struck by lightening twice; the first bolt took out the electricity, and the second started the fire.  She also related that her father ran to the neighbor’s house rather than drove, a distance of over a mile away, to use their phone.  When it became apparent that the house could not be saved, the firemen broke out windows and threw whatever of the family’s belongings they could grab, out into the yard. 
The two older girls stayed with Bill’s sister in Huron, and the rest of the family stayed with Bill’s parents.  In the meantime, they began looking for a house that they could move to the farm:
housetobuy (from the Thursday, May16 edition of the Huronite and Daily Plainsman, Huron, South Dakota)


However, the plans changed when they found a house in town, pictured at right, and purchased it on May 20.  Bill made daily trips to the farm to do his chores.  The new house was just a half block from the home of Maurice and Loretta Sloan, their farm friends who had recently moved to town.  My grandmother and Mrs. Sloan maintained their close friendship for the rest of their lives.  My grandfather continued making daily trips to the farm until he sold it about 1972.

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