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Chieftain Times

The Student News Site of Yutan High School

Chieftain Times

The Student News Site of Yutan High School

Chieftain Times

When tragedy strikes

Wilson family adapts to temporary new living space
After calling 911, firefighters arrive at the Wilsons’ house. Fire squads came from surrounding areas such as Yutan, Mead, Wahoo, Ashland, Valley, and Columbus.

June 28, 2023, was different from the very start. Rain was falling just a bit harder than normal, and thunder was echoing just a bit louder. A thunderstorm filled the skies of Yutan, Neb., that would change a family’s life forever.

It was 6 a.m. when the lightning struck. The sound of a “shotgun” rang through the house, causing the Wilsons to wake up just for a second. Thinking it was just another clap from the sky, the family members fell back asleep, returning to their last peaceful moment of the day. It wasn’t until the smell of smoke flooded the house that reality finally hit them. Lightning had struck their house.

“I didn’t really think anything much of it until my dad came into my room and was like, ‘We need to get out of the house right now,’” senior Reagan Wilson said. “I was half asleep… didn’t want to get out of bed. Obviously after I figured out what happened, I’m glad I did.”

When the lightning hit the roof, it sent an electrical discharge through the wiring of the house, causing a power outage. A fire then ignited in the attic, spreading inside the walls; the majority of the flames started in the room of the youngest, who wasn’t there at the time.   

Firefighters broke into one of the bedroom’s walls in order to put out the fire. The heat sensor detected a reading of 220 degrees.

“I was staying at my friend Eli’s house the night of the fire. My friend’s mom told me what happened, and I didn’t believe her at first,” seventh-grader Rhett Wilson said. “The inside of my room was all torn up, and there was water dripping from the ceiling.”

Fortunately for the family, everyone made it out safely, including all their pets. However, between putting out the fire and the fire itself, the house underwent some severe damage, making it no longer suitable for the Wilsons to live in. 

“It was definitely sad,” sophomore Madison Wilson said. “Everything was gone.”

Eighth-grader Mallory Wilson added, “We were confused on where to go, and we were just scared that we might not get back to our house.”

The Wilsons ended up staying with their grandparents in Omaha for a week until they could figure out what to do next. 

“The first couple of days were really difficult,” Reagan said. “We were bunched in living with my grandma and didn’t even have any access to our stuff because of the smoke damage.”

The family then got the bad news that their house wouldn’t be ready to move back into for six months.

“They (the workers) originally said it would take about a month, but then they came back and said it wouldn’t be ready ‘til end of December,” Madison said.

After receiving the news, the Wilsons spent time moving from place to place until residing at their current home, the Residence Inn Hotel. There, the six of them stay in a single room along with their pets: a cat, a hamster and a mouse.

“The first couple of days, it was pretty cool. Like, you know when you’re little and you go on vacations and you are in a hotel, and you are like, ‘This is so cool. I want to live here.’ Then when you actually have to do it, you’re like, ‘I don’t want to live here,’” Reagan said.

The room consists of two beds, one of which is shared by the parents while the four kids rotate between the other bed and couch. They also all share one bathroom and now live 20 minutes from school instead of their usual five. 

“It’s very small and crowded for all of us. I miss being able to get up and go get breakfast without having to wait for anyone,” Mallory said.

From left to right, Reagan, Madison, Mallory, and Rhett Wilson stand in front of Residence Inn Hotel. By the time their house is done, the Wilsons will have stayed in the hotel for six months. (Courtesy Photo)

While staying in a hotel room isn’t ideal, the family is still managing to make the best of it between the free food and access to a pool.

“[My favorite part] is going swimming whenever I want and having the insurance pay for our food,” Rhett said.

 Overall, the experience has helped them realize what Reagan says are the “irreplaceable things in life.”

“I’m very grateful for just my friends and my family and just the Yutan community as a whole. I mean, when our house did get struck by lightning, 30 seconds later, (neighbor) Matt Thompson’s there… to help in any way he can,” Reagan said. “I’m just really grateful that I have such great people standing with me and my family to get through this.”

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About the Contributor
Haley Kube
Haley Kube, Senior writer
Haley Kube is a senior and in her fourth year of journalism. She enjoys writing sports news, feature stories and making infographics.  Outside journalism, Haley is involved in student council, FBLA, basketball, track, football, NHS, and speech.
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