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Family’s home saved for third time against fires

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    RAPID CITY, South Dakota (Rapid City Journal) — Michelle Rice had about 15 minutes to pack before she and her family were forced out of their house on Westberry Court for the third time in 33 years Monday.

Her daughter grabbed her bags and put the baby in the car while Rice put her husband’s medicine in a ziploc bag.

“I thought, ‘oh, we’re going to come back,’ so I didn’t pack any clothes,” she said. “I left with what I was wearing and a ziploc bag of medicine and two kids. We left and from there, all day it just got worse and worse.”

They drove into town and stayed with Rice’s son for two days and didn’t know if her house survived until they came back Wednesday.

As they walked around the property they saw the remains of a gazebo where her son was married, charred and burned to almost ash, with the cross that sat atop it slightly burned but OK.

“It was on the ground with all the pieces,” she said. “It wasn’t standing, it was laying down flat on the ground. … It just gave you goosebumps, it was like everything is OK, it’s going to be OK.”

The Schroeder Fire burned a lot of the Rice’s property in the Westberry Trails subdivision. As of Monday morning, the fire is 100% contained and a type three incident management team was scheduled to take over from the Rocky Mountain Blue type two incident management team Monday evening.

The fire grew to 2,224 acres as it burned the Schroeder, Westberry Trails, Pinedale Heights, National Guard camp, Cleghorn Canyon and Nameless Cave areas in west Rapid City. About 400 to 500 residents were evacuated March 29 with some returning to their homes Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Public Information Officer Stephanie Cooke said only one residence on Blue Sky Trail was lost to the fire along with two pole barns. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, although they reported it was human-caused.

The gazebo fell to the wind in 2020, so all the pieces were in a pile on the ground on the northwest corner of the backyard.

Rice said she’s always been strong in her faith, but it’s grown stronger over the past few years. She said Easter weekend was different this year for her family.

“We were so thankful to have our home and no smoke damage in the house,” she said. “We didn’t go out to a restaurant, we wanted to eat at home because we had a home.”

Rice said this is the third time her house was saved from a fire — it also survived the 1988 Westberry Trails fire that burned down her mother-in-law’s home and the 2012 fire in the same area.

Despite the now three times the fire has come close to their house, Rice said her family isn’t leaving.

“Maybe this is where we’re supposed to be,” she said. “It’s home, I feel safe, I don’t feel scared. Three times I’ve endured this and it’s all been good. We’re so thankful for everything, we could’ve lost our home and we didn’t.”

She said they’re going to keep living their lives, keep their faith and trust in God, which Rice said she’ll do by watching sunsets on her back deck.

“For so many years I took that for granted,” she said. “Lately I’ve been (coming outside to watch them). It’s like, ‘OK, God, you’re giving me a sign that you’re a master and a good artist, and it’s going to be OK.”

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