Apr 18, 2013 - By Christina George, Staff WriterInvestigators have determined a pellet stove started the fire that destroyed the home of former Fremont County Sheriff Tim McKinney this weekend south of Lander.
"It's a total loss," fire investigator Donnie Reed said of the two-story house.
McKinney's daughter, Fremont County Assessor Tara Berg, said her dad suffered burns to his arm and the side of his face during the blaze, which he initially tried to control with a fire extinguisher.
"He opened the back door and the flames were huge," Berg said. "It's a cedar-sided house, so it went quick."
She said her parents had just finished eating dinner Saturday evening when her mother, Rosanne McKinney, smelled smoke. Berg said her mother got up from the living room couch and went toward the back of the house, where she saw smoke coming from the porch.
Initial reports show Rosanne McKinney called 911 at about 6:15 p.m. Saturday and told dispatchers that she could see smoke and flames coming from the back porch of her home, which is located on the family's Twin Creek ranch, 6763 Wyoming Highway 789/U.S. Highway 287. Rosanne McKinney reportedly said the fire was on the backside wall of the pellet stove, and she noted that windows were exploding.
Her second call was to Berg, who also lives on the family ranch, across the highway from the McKinney home.
"They are doing as well as I think you can expect," Berg said about her parents.
She said the house was built in 1981 after her family returned to the ranch they've owned for nearly 120 years. When her father was elected sheriff in 1978, she said, the family occupied an apartment that used to be in the basement of the Fremont County Courthouse in Lander.
"We moved back to the ranch because we didn't care for city life," Berg said.
The fire is the second tragedy the family has dealt with in recent months: Berg's brother Todd McKinney died suddenly from natural causes Jan. 17 at the family ranch.
"They are strong people," Berg said about her parents, adding the family continues to remain optimistic. "You still have to count your blessings."
Berg's parents are staying with her at this time. She noted the many friends and neighbors who have shown up with food, clothes and "lots of support."
"That's what is great about this community," she said.
Reed said the blaze began when the McKinney's pellet stove ignited an outside wall of the house. Lander Rural Fire Department lieutenant Trent Jones said more than 20 firefighters from throughout the county responded to the blaze, using several pieces of apparatus including structure engines and tankers to combat the flames.
"We were on scene for probably four hours," Jones said.
Passersby observed the house smoldering on Sunday.
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