‘It doesn’t even feel like it’s a tragedy’: New Year’s Eve fire leaves teacher, firefighter’s family without home

A house fire in Cheney
Courtesy of Ben Hill

CHENEY, Wash. —  A new year really is bringing a new beginning for one Cheney family. The Hill Family is now picking up the pieces of what’s left of their old home after a fire displaced them on New Year’s Eve.

Unfortunately, house fires happen often and firefighters save what they can. It’s particularly hard in this situation for the Hill’s because Ben, the father, is a volunteer firefighter for Spokane County Fire District 3.

Ben told 4 News Now he was holding a New Year’s Eve party for his kids and a dozen of their friends when the fire happened Tuesday night.

“I got a call that I needed to come back home because there’d been a fire, and I showed up and this is kind of what I was looking at,” he said referencing a big pile things that charred in the fire.

If he were home, we asked him, could this have been avoided?

“I don’t know how much could’ve been avoided depending on where we would’ve been in the house,” he said. Ben added that they have a family room in the basement – that’s where they’re normally at. The fire started up in the living room.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Luckily, no one was home at the time and their pets had made it out. He had been renting the home for four years now.

His wife was also out of town at the time of the fire.

“That was a hard phone call. She’s taking care of her mom right now… Told her that was more important than coming here to whatever we were doing next,” Ben said.

Since volunteering at the fire department, Ben has seen his fair share of fires and tragedies.

He always told others to cherish their family, and now he’s taking his own advice.

“I hold my kids a little closer every night. These are just things. it’s nothing that can’t be replaced. There’s some sentimental stuff, but nothing that can’t be replaced. This is what can’t be replaced – my kids,” he said.

Ben is also a teacher at Medical Lake Middle School. We spoke to a few other teachers who say he and his wife are people who’d give anything to anyone.

“The kids in this school, every kid loves him. He’s a special ed teacher but every kid loves him. they call him High Five Hill,” said Kimberly Lee who’s worked with Ben for years.

“He knows every kid’s name in the whole school, they gravitate to him. They gravitate to him. They really, really love him,” said Lisa Lemire, another teacher Ben has worked with for years.

Ben said he’s grateful for all the help he’s received from the community.

“That’s the part that makes me cry a little because I’ve got a great family at the fire department, and I’ve got a great family that I teach with. The love that I feel was overwhelming. It’s overflowing,” he said.

Thanks to the community, Ben and his family found a rental home for the next few months. Picking up the pieces is just the beginning, of what Ben says, is a new adventure.

Teachers with Medical Lake Middle School started a GoFundMe to help Ben’s family, along with an account with STCU under the “Hill Family Support Fund.”