BILLINGS — An early morning fire Monday destroyed three houses on Perista Avenue in Pryor, leaving a Vietnam veteran homeless after living at the address for 50 years.
Sealmar Red Star, 73, pulled up to his home about 2:30 a.m. Monday and saw it engulfed in flames. He first tried to grab a rope to pull a car away from the fire and suffered burns on his face and right arm. The car’s bumper and tail lights were melted from the heat. All of Red Star’s possessions were gone in an instant, including a bike for his 5-year-old grandson.
"I just got a custody release for him from Wyoming," Red Star said. "This was the second week he’d been with me. His toys were in that back room."
"I tried to do what I could do, save what could be saved, but nothing could be saved," said neighbor Erwin Bull Shows.
Bull Shows lives one street over. His wife woke him up around 2 a.m. when she saw the flames, after seeing two people on the property a little earlier.
"She said she saw a light, like a flashlight or something," Bull Shows said.
Bull Shows believes the fire started in the middle house, which hadn’t been occupied for some time. It then spread to Red Star's on the north and to another trailer house on to the south that Red Star’s sister had just purchased. Red Star’s nephew was remodeling the home in preparation for the family to move from Seattle.
The nephew says he found a young girl hiding in one of the bathrooms during the fire. She was able to escape. Other family members say they saw a man partially on fire running away from the houses, calling for help. Red Star says the man was taken to the Pryor Health Clinic for treatment, and that the man is a suspect in a BIA investigation.
"There were three (officers) here. I wasn't here, but that's what I was told by my daughter who was here," Red Star said. "They are investigating it."
MTN News asked the BIA for details and were provided with this short statement: "We do not comment on any active investigations."
Red Star’s biggest complaint for now is with the fire response from the BIA Forestry division.
"I called the BIA forest department, and they said they can’t do anything. Some kind of policy where they can only put out forest fires," Red Star said. "All these structures that burn here in town, we always ask for help. They give no help."
The Big Horn County Rural Fire Department, based 60 miles away Hardin, told MTN News they are asked to handle all structure fires. They sent two engines Monday morning, but by the time they arrived, all they could do was help with cleanup.
A GoFundMe has been set up in Sealmar's name.