April 9, 2007

Good, fair, and poor

Winsted families struck by fire vary greatly in how they’re doing

By Lynda Jensen

Following the aftermath of three separate fires that struck Winsted families four months apart, the answers are good, fair, and poor.

The three fires were located within three miles of each other, west of Winsted:

• Tim and Colleen Flaig lost their home in a fire two weeks before Christmas, Dec. 12.

• Roger and Roberta Venske sustained a fire that heavily damaged their home, Jan. 20.

• Ron and Carol Ann Artmann lost their home in a fire March 6.

So far, the Tim and Colleen Flaig family is doing very well, having moved into their newly constructed home a month ago. The Ron and Carol Ann Artmann family is doing fair, living in a trailer, and waiting for a new home to be built.

However, dairy farmers Roger and Roberta Venske remain in the burned out remains of their home, struggling with their insurance company.

Roger and Roberta Venske

“We’re OK,” Roberta Venske said. The Venskes are down-to-earth people, who refuse to complain about their bad luck either way.

Nevertheless, she admitted that they are currently at a standstill with their insurance company over their claim.

“Our agent should have explained our policy better,” she noted. “It all depends on your policy and how it’s written.”

“How many people read their insurance policy?” she asked. No one she has talked to has said yes, she added.

They have a cash value policy, which covered an old house that depreciated over time – or so they are being told by their insurance company.

They are still being taxed for the property, and the house’s value is based on this tax, recorded at the county auditor’s office.

The house wasn’t updated over the years, she said. It was moved onto the property in the 60s, and she was unsure of its exact age.

The house was paid off, except for a loan that the Venskes took out to pay for a large shed behind the house six years ago.

The bottom line is that it would cost more to fix than the insurance is willing to pay, she said.

The house was nearly a total loss, being described as such by the insurance adjuster who visited after the fire.

The fire was contained to the basement, as reported by the fire department at the time, although curtains on the main floor melted in the living room, Roberta said. The smell of fire residue permeates the house.

For the time being, the Venskes — Roberta, her husband, and his brother Doug — have been living together in three rooms on the main floor of the burned out house, with other rooms partitioned off because they aren’t usable. This makes for cramped quarters, she said.

Everything that the Venskes own was affected by the fire, but Roberta claims to not mind the smell of soot in her clothes. “A little Downy takes care of that,” she said, adding that she didn’t let the scent settle.

Operating a dairy farm complicates the situation as well, making it impossible to walk away from the house, even if they wanted to.

For example, a pressure tank in the basement is used for the animals every day. And they can’t go far away because they must tend to animals.

The fire, which took place two-and-a-half months ago, started in the basement. If the fire department had gotten there even a few moments later, the house would have been completely gone, she said.

There have been many offers to help, but Roberta has been reluctant to take them. However, she did note that some things, such as washing walls, could be helpful for volunteers to do, since she can’t do them herself because she isn’t strong enough.

If the Venskes decide to rebuild, the insurance company is willing to pay for a trailer for them to live in, she said. The question is how much they will owe on the new house, if there is one, she said.

Ron and Carol Ann Artmann

Life is better for the Artmanns, who had a fire March 6.

“We’re doing OK,” Carol Ann said. “No complaints.”

The Artmanns are busy making plans to build a new, handicapped-accessible house in the next several months. “It’s not the way we planned our summer,” Carol Ann said ruefully.

Nevertheless, they are comfortable in the rented trailer provided by the insurance company.

She emphasized how generous the community has been. “It’s been unbelievable,” she said, noting that even total strangers have sent them assistance.

Members of the American Pinto Association, of which the Artmanns have seven of these horses, also helped them out.

However, when it comes to replacing a lifetime of possessions, this goes so far.

But Carol Ann is confident of the future.

Once in a while, she thinks of the sentimental items that were lost, she said. For example, she had a homemade nativity set that she would spend time reading in front of, along with her grandson, Cody, as part of a family tradition.

This past November, she told Cody, 16, he would get the nativity when grandma dies. This was lost.

In addition, Carol Ann Artmann inherited some doilies and afghans from her grandmother, which were stored in the garage, where the fire started. She planned to pass them along to her grandchildren from great grandma. These are gone as well.

“That’s the stuff that hurts the most,” she said.

In the meantime, the Artmanns have had several adjusters on their property for each item lost, the golf cart, two vehicles house and horse trailer.

They are swimming in a pool of paperwork, but are none the worse for wear, except for a bout of bronchitis that Ron is working through.

Tim and Colleen Flaig

“It’s going really good,” said Colleen Flaig of their recovering from a December fire that destroyed their home.

The Flaigs are snuggled up in a new home built over the past few months, and are doing great.

They moved in the last week of February, and the kids took to the new place immediately, Colleen reported. In fact, it took them longer to get used to the trailer they were housed in temporarily than the new house, she said.

The garage needs a concrete floor, but is mostly done as well, she said. Landscaping is left to do.

“We definitely appreciated the support of the community,” Colleen said. Her home-based equestrian business is rolling along.

The Flaigs also lost precious sentimental items, such as pictures of their children.

The fire department was able to rescue a China cabinet that contained figurines that Colleen got from her grandparents. These need to be cleaned, but are otherwise OK, she said.

They were surprised when the Venskes’ fire took place, and brought over supper and blankets for them at that time.

The Venskes and Flaigs live a quarter mile from each other.

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