SPIRIT LAKE — Light snow and freezing rain were no match Friday morning for walls of towering flames that destroyed a log house in Spirit Lake.
No one was injured in the blaze that broke out about 9 a.m., but all possessions inside were lost.
Spirit Lake Fire District Chief John DeBernardi said the fire was caused by hot ashes from homeowner Larry Brotzman's wood stove that had been placed in a plastic container on the house deck.
Friday's timing couldn't have been worse for Brotzman.
"Merry Christmas, huh?" he muttered, as firefighters tried to knock down the flames.
The house was insured, but that provided little comfort.
"That doesn't replace what you lost," he said.
While the fire raged, Brotzman and his family stood by a barn that houses their motor home, which they planned to sleep in Friday.
Brotzman, 63, was in the basement of the three-story house with his wife, Dorothy, and mother, Helen Curtis, when he heard his dog barking.
He ran upstairs to the living room when he heard the smoke alarm.
"The fire was next to the wood stove — the wall was all on fire," he said.
Realizing how fast the fire was moving, Brotzman chased down a hose. But it was too late.
"The smoke was so bad," he said.
Brotzman grabbed his cell phone and called the Spirit Lake Fire District.
At the same time, DeBernardi said firefighters received a call about an aircraft crash after the caller reported seeing a helicopter circling in the Spirit Lake area.
DeBernardi said the caller thought the chopper had crashed because of the thick, black smoke coming from where the house was burning.
Timberlake Fire Chief Marion Blackwell responded to that call, only to find the burning home.
Firefighters headed to the blaze at 9:09 a.m., Blackwell said.
Fire engines rumbled over snow-covered roads through the rural and secluded area of Spirit Lake. Since there were no hydrants near the house, crews had to bring water from a hydrant at Timberlake High School — about two miles away from the scene.
Blackwell said the home and its contents were valued at about $290,000. Firefighters were able to remove items from the garage, but were unable to knock down the intense flames that swept through the house.
"The middle floor was fully involved," Blackwell said. "Flames were shooting out the front picture window and the door into the second story."
The fire sent a thick cloud of black smoke into the air, which could be seen as far away as Athol.
Firefighters from the Northern Lakes Fire District were also dispatched.
Brotzman moved into the house in June 1999.
"I've lost it all — a total loss," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do."
Brotzman found a way to make light of the situation as he watched firefighters cluster around what was left of his house.
"One of the guys asked me what my phone number is," he said.
"I said, 'What for?'"
He found a reason to be optimistic, too. Brotzman said he left "a couple of hundred dollars" inside a fireproof box that was still in the fire.
"That will be the true test of the box," he said.
The family has relatives in Coeur d'Alene, who arrived Friday to provide a helping hand and a hug.