Fire leaves a Wildernest family homeless |

Fire leaves a Wildernest family homeless

WILDERNEST – Tawnya Helmling had one thought when she opened the door to her Wildernest home Friday afternoon and saw flames: Where was the family dog?

The smoke was still light inside the house, so Helmling decided to dash inside and search for Traveller. She found the black, mixed-breed dog huddled inside the downstairs bedroom.

“He had shut the door behind himself – that’s what he does when he gets scared,” she said. “When I opened the door, he just came shooting out.”

The Helmling family is safe, but they are now homeless.

The family plans to move to Germany in June, after 12-year-old Elissa finishes school. There, Dick Helmling has accepted a two-year stint working for Northrop Grumman, the second-largest defense contractor in the world. Readying for the move, they had listed their Wildernest home for sale. The house went under contract Thursday.

The Helmlings aren’t sure if the fire will nullify the contract. In some ways, Dick said, the new owners have an advantage. “They’ll be able to choose their own carpet and paint,” he said.

In any case, the Helmlings plans to move to Germany won’t change, although they expect they’ll live in a hotel until the end of the school year.

Neither the Helmlings nor firefighters who put out the flames know yet how much damage the fire inflicted or what caused it. Firefighters were searching for the source of the fire Friday evening.

Firefighters got the 911 call about 4:30 p.m., when Tawnya, Elissa and 17-year-old Merrick returned from a trip to Denver and heard the smoke detectors peeling and saw smoke in the garage.

Fifteen firefighters from the Lake Dillon and Snake River fire departments doused the flames.

The Helmlings said they’d been told the damage was not all encompassing.

“The downstairs is OK, thank the Lord,” Elissa said. “My stereo is down there.”

The stereo was a Christmas present, and while it wasn’t expensive, it has sentimental value, she said.

Standing outside in the neighbor’s driveway, waiting for firefighters to tell them they could go into their home, the Helmlings managed to laugh about the fire, wondering aloud if Elissa’s teacher would believe her when she said her homework had burned.

“I figure humor’s as good as anything right now,” Tawnya said.

The Helmlings’ four-bedroom, 2.5-bath home, at 31 Burgundy Circle, is a duplex. The Helmlings’ neighbors in the other half of the house, Tom and Pam Smith, believe their duplex was unharmed.

Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at

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