‘This house is a testament to the community’

First home up in Denton following West Wind Fire
Will Briggs
Tuesday, August 9, 2022
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Carla Allen and her mom Jeanne Erlandson stand in the living room of Erlandson’s new home, which is filled with gifts and donations, including the decor on the walls from friends, family, and neighbors. Photo by Will Briggs

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Erlandson’s new modular home arrived June 17. Crews lifted the house by crane and placed it onto the foundation before completing its assembly. Photo courtesy of Carla Allen

On March 22, Jeanne Erlandson and her daughter, Carla Allen, watched as Erlandson’s home was torn down. The demolition process lasted only 11 minutes. Less than three months later, they gathered at the same site for a much happier occasion: the construction of her new home.

Erlandson’s house is the first new home built in Denton following the West Wind Fire that burned nearly 50 structures and over 10,000 acres Dec. 1 of last year. The 1,200-square foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom modular unit features a spacious kitchen with a large island, front deck, luxurious master bath, and walk-in master closet that Erlandson is turning into a sewing room.

“My old house was about 800 square feet, so I’m running my legs off going from one end to the other,” Erlandson said. “I lived in my old house close to 70 years. It cost $7,000 at the time. I didn’t realize how small the place was.”

As with any house, however, it’s more than just the physical features that make a home.

“This house is a testament to the community,” Erlandson said.

Tokens of Erlandson’s family, friends, and the Denton community fill the space. The family of Ora Ayers, Erlandson’s dear friend who passed away in May, donated a number of furnishings for the new home, including a quilt for the master bedroom. Another friend, Linda Gluth, threw a housewarming shower for Erlandson in May in anticipation of her imminent move-in date.


Assembly required

Beyond the contents of the house, the kindness of friends and strangers permeated the process of acquiring and building the home.

“Any time we needed curtain rods set up, I’d call Roger Campbell,” Erlandson said. “We have family friends who did the electrical and plumbing work. Friends from Oklahoma helped put together the barstools in the kitchen.”

“Local contractors built the deck and poured the sidewalk,” Allen added. “Greg Buckington fast-tracked it for mom.”

Erlandson, who is 93, also received money from her insurance company, as well as donations from the Denton Fire Relief Fund. In addition, Northwestern Energy, whose power lines sparked the fire, paid to clean up her lot.

“We originally thought the house was OK because it was still up, but the floor joists were all burned and just the shell left and the house was unrecoverable,” Allen said.

Allen started looking for modular homes so her mother, who was staying with her, could get into a new house without needing to wait for new construction. Erlandson’s new house is actually the second house Allen found for her mother, after issues with the timing of getting insurance money derailed their first attempt.

“I thought it would be a quick process, but there’s so much more to it,” Allen said. “This one was built for a couple that couldn’t take it at the time, so we got a call asking if we wanted it.”

Once the house arrived on June 17, a crane lifted it in pieces, placing them onto the foundation before they were put together. 

“The guy who put the house together had quite the job,” Erlandson said. “It was interesting to watch. The guy with the crane just picked up the pieces and swung them around and it was such a windy day.”


Looking back, moving forward

Though it’s a modular home, there’s still plenty of work for Erlandson, Allen, and the rest of the family to do on it. Erlandson is pondering what to do with an empty wall in the living room, perhaps putting up her mother’s needlework of the Lord’s Prayer. The garage also needs to be painted and then there’s the yard, which is completely empty, save for a single tree by the curb and some weeds that have popped up in the meantime. The local Lion’s Club has donated money for Erlandson to use for grass seed.

“We’re waiting on prices for a sprinkler system,” Erlandson said. “The house used to sit closer to the street, so there’s more lawn this time.”

As Erlandson gets settled, she can’t help but notice the changes taking place around her house.

“The view is different,” she noted. 

A total of 11 houses within several blocks of her home were destroyed. Some of her neighbors are moving. Others are rebuilding, though many are having issues finding people to do the work. One of her next-door neighbors has the last lot in the neighborhood to be cleaned up.

There’s also the matter of getting back into her own routine.

“I still wake up and think ‘Carla should be going to work now,’” Erlandson said.

“I’ve had to do my own washing for four days,” Allen joked.

Erlandson moving into a home of her own once again has also given the pair a chance to reflect on what has been a difficult season of life.

“It’s been a year,” Allen said. “We’ve had our moments during this process, but it’s been good, even if it’s taken a toll.”

For her part, Erlandson thought of her mother, Fern, who dealt with difficult times of her own.

“She drove all the way from Wisconsin on her own in a Model-T or a Model-A to teach in the school here. She was a pioneer, especially for a woman in that time,” Erlandson said. “She was tough.”

Linda Gluth, the friend who threw the housewarming shower for Erlandson, stopped by Friday morning to check in on her and see the new house.

“She’s Grandma Jean to me,” Gluth said. “Through this process there hasn’t been a person in town who wasn’t saying ‘Yes, they got their house down!’ or ‘Yes, they got their roof on!”

Allen pulled up a picture on her cell phone of the old house getting decorated for Christmas on Nov. 29, just two days prior to the fire. With a new home to spruce up, she and her mother are grateful for the assistance they’ve received in getting to this point.

“It’ll get there,” Erlandson said. “All the help from friends, neighbors, and family – this wouldn’t have happened without them.”