Town Of Hudson Rallies Around Family Who Lost Everything In Fire

It took nine fire trucks, four fire crews and nearly 50 firefighters to stop the blaze that took everything from the Watts family in Hudson, Wyoming. But the fire did not take their friends -- and strangers -- who have rallied to help them after the loss.

CM
Clair McFarland

March 15, 202410 min read

The charred remains of the Watts family home in Hudson, Wyoming, the day after it burned.
The charred remains of the Watts family home in Hudson, Wyoming, the day after it burned. (Courtesy K.La Watts)

It took nine fire trucks, four fire crews and nearly 50 firefighters to stop the blaze that took everything from the Watts family.

Well, almost everything.

Dusty and K.La Watts and their four children were not home in Hudson when the fire started. K.La’s Bible survived, as did the family’s two dogs, and the idea that life’s daily worries aren’t what actually matter most.  

K.La Watts and her 15-year-old daughter were in Shoshoni, on Jan. 12, helping to organize a women’s five-shot rabbit hunt. 

The three younger boys, ages 13, 11, and 7, were at school; Dusty Watts was at work.

Just after 2 p.m., K.La’s phone rang.

“K.La — your house is on fire,” said a coworker. “It’s all gone.”  

Reality melted into a fog. K.La got into her truck with her daughter and drove, numbly, the 38 miles toward home. She slogged through the bottleneck of Riverton’s Federal Boulevard then rocketed down the southward highway on snowy roads. A cold breeze whipped up snakes of frost. Her phone rang incessantly.

Her daughter, Marissa, was still thinking clearly.

“Mom,” said Marissa, “You just need to chill out.”

K.La realized she was going 90 mph.

“You don’t need to be driving like an idiot,” Marissa said, as K.La remembered weeks later with a laugh.

She arrived to find Hudson full of smoke.

The burned out shell of the Watts family home.
The burned out shell of the Watts family home. (Courtesy K.La Watts)

‘Miserable, I Remember That’

Fremont County Fire Protection District's Hudson crew, Lander rural crew and Riverton-based Battalion 1 battled the blaze along with the Lander Fire Department.

The nearby hydrant wasn’t frozen, but the water pressure fell short that day of the gush needed to put down a two-story bonfire, Ron Wempen, Fremont County Fire Chief, told Cowboy State Daily.

So the fire crews reverted to their middle-of-nowhere technique of running engines back to a water source at the Hudson station, circling back to the scene and pumping water to the other trucks.

Hudson town water personnel got resourceful as well, increasing the city water flow so residents didn’t run out during the response, Wempen said. 

The county fire trucks were on scene for seven hours until 9 that evening. Their valves kept freezing. Firefighters thawed them with on-board heaters throughout the afternoon, but when evening came, they had to send the trucks to their garages and blow out the valves.

The Hudson-based crew monitored the fire all night to douse any hot spots flaring in the debris.

It wasn’t windy by then, but it was 20 degrees below zero and snowing.

“It was miserable, I remember that,” said Wempen.

‘This Is Something I Can’t Fix’

Engines roared and voices barked all around her, but all K.La remembers of that scene is smoke, swirling.

And watching her husband break.

“That was really, really hard to see him as upset as he was,” she said of Dusty Watts, adding that he’s usually calm, laid back and a “rock” for the family.

“When he got there to meet me at the house, he was shattered,” K.La said. “I was shattered, because I couldn’t fix it. And I’m a fixer – I have to fix things. And this is something I can’t fix.”

Into The Ashes

The next day, Dusty and K.La met the fire marshal at the charred skeleton that was their home.

They’d stayed in a Riverton hotel overnight. Cresting a highway plateau on the valley’s edge between the two towns, they were already surrounded by smoke.  

At the house, everything that would have been upstairs had collapsed into the basement. The couple found a some photographs and K.La’s Bible.

Her hope chest full of baby mementos had melted together. Their wedding rings were destroyed. So were Dusty’s guns. Birth certificates, clothes, toys, and the rooms that had once housed their memories were gone. 

The fire investigator said the blaze was accidental but the exact cause was undetermined. It was lost in the massive destruction, both K.La and Wempen told Cowboy State Daily in separate interviews.

K.La and her husband believe the heat lamp they used to warm their two dogs outside that cold weekend sparked it.

The house was still smoking the day after the accidental, but unsolvable fire that destroyed it Jan. 12.
The house was still smoking the day after the accidental, but unsolvable fire that destroyed it Jan. 12. (Courtesy K.La Watts)

This Box

The family stayed in a Riverton hotel for three nights. On the third night, it finally sank in that they didn’t have a home.

“Normally when you stay in a hotel room it’s for a weekend, and you’re having just a family outing,” K.La  said. “But when you stay in a hotel room for many, many days, the realization set in that we didn’t have anywhere to go. That we’d lost it all.”

Tiny things triggered that sense, like when K.La reached for a Q-tip and realized there were none.

For Marissa, it was realizing she couldn’t burrow into her favorite hoodies and sweatpants, said K.La.

After the hotel stay and a few days at K.La’s parents’ home outside Riverton, the family rented a trailer from a local man, which is on a lot in Hudson. Dusty was already coordinating that rental the day after the fire, K.La said. 

The family of six piled into the three-bedroom, two-bath rectangle box, in which the kitchen is also the living room. It’s a man camp trailer — a tiny dwelling designed for temporary stay on oil fields or other worksites.

“So we went from a 5,200-square-foot home to maybe, a 1,200-square-foot home,” said K.La.

Still it was “awesome” to have it, she said, adding that the family will be in the trailer for another year or so as they rebuild their home.

Bonding Like This

They can’t sneak away to distant rooms. They have to communicate and work together. They fold laundry and cook meals while “living on top of each other,” said K.La.

“We haven’t bonded like this in a long time,” she said, adding she also sees a positive change in her children. They’re untethered from all the stuff that used to matter so much.

As for K.La, she’s learned how little control she has over her circumstances. She’s seen the hundreds of hours she spent vacuuming and obsessing over her home go up in smoke.

Never Leaving Hudson

While the Watts family was reaching in futility for vanished comforts, people who care about them buzzed around behind the scenes.

Dusty’s sister Roni Watts mobilized, watching for good deals on Facebook, coordinating donations from family and friends and fielding phone calls.

Now, Roni and other community members are coordinating a benefit dinner in the Hudson Town Hall for 5 p.m. Saturday.

The state convention of the Wyoming Elks Association happened to be the same weekend as the fire, and visiting members were staying in the same hotel as the Watts family that weekend.

During the convention Saturday, Elks former president and Lander teacher Kevin Green announced that a local family had lost its home in a fire the previous afternoon, said Jerry Fritz, state secretary of the Wyoming Elks Association.

Convention attendees voted to give the family $10,000 from its pot of charity money, garnered from paying national dues and receiving dividends.

“It was really kind of perfect timing, if there was ever such a thing in a tragedy like that,” said Fritz. The group also bought winter gear and clothes for the family to get them by.

The donation came as a surprise.

K.La said she and her family pulled up to Frank’s Butcher Shop in Hudson, expecting to meet with a couple people to discuss their potential needs. And “there was a big ol’ group there,” poised to give a $10,000 donation toward a new home.

Insurance will cover part of the Watts family’s losses, but they did not have the home insured for its full value, she said, noting that she and her husband bought both the house and the insurance policy in 2015.

All the generosity they’ve experienced in their calamity has tied the Watts family to their home community for good, said K.La.

“We will never leave Hudson,” she said with a laugh.

Everything that was upstairs fell into the basement, said K.La Watts of her fire-ravaged home.
Everything that was upstairs fell into the basement, said K.La Watts of her fire-ravaged home. (Courtesy K.La Watts)

Onward

Losing a home “sucks,” said K.La.

The kids miss their sports medals and trophies. The Watts’ 7-year-old son, an avid wrestler, decided with a heavy shrug that he’ll just have to earn a whole new trophy collection from scratch.

K.La has been working to replace everyone’s birth certificates.

Dusty is warning all his loved ones not to leave hot electronics plugged in.

But they’re moving forward. K.La is back in the ring coaching USA Wrestling. Her kids are back to their daily sports practices and weekend games and meets. Marissa skied for the Lander Valley High School team.

And they’ve got bulldog puppies on the way.

That’s because a neighbor’s visiting daughter-in-law rescued the Watts’ two dogs as soon as she saw the fire. The female was gated onto the porch, while the male dog was allowed to run around in the back yard.

The kind visitor got both dogs to safety in the neighbor’s garage.

Little did she know, the female dog was on her third week of heat. The puppies are due this week.

“So if anybody is looking for bulldog puppies, we’re going to have puppies after this!” said K.La.

The surprise of new life is one of many bright spots in the trial.

Roni Watts said she hopes K.La and Dusty can grieve for themselves, even while they’re holding everything together for their family.

“These guys, as parents and for each other, have done amazing through all this,” said Roni. Of K.La, she added, “For (her) kids she never stopped doing the activities… Whether she knew what she was doing or not, she never skipped a beat.” 

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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CM

Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter