Yolanda and Gary Lays Bad watched firefighters from Kyle work for over two hours Saturday night to put out the fire that destroyed everything in their Porcupine mobile home.
But another fire department on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was not allowed to help.
Pine Ridge officials say the Bureau of Indian Affairs does not allow crews from the Pine Ridge Wildland Fire Department to battle structure fires. The BIA's reasoning, officials say, is that the department's firefighters are not trained on structure fires.
Oglala Sioux Tribe Councilman Dan Rodriguez said Pine Ridge Agency Superintendent Cleve Her Many Horses has told the Tribal Council in the past that rules handed down by the BIA office in Aberdeen restrict the department's responsibilities to fighting fires only on land.
Usually a reservation will have a volunteer fire department in addition to the grassland fire department, said Washington, D.C.-based BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling.
Kyle, on the reservation, has a volunteer department, as does Martin, which is off the reservation. The Kyle department and the Wildland department are both about 25 miles from the Lays Bads' property. The Martin department is 37 miles away.
Louis Janis, a firefighter with the Pine Ridge Wildland Fire Department, said the department was at the Lays Bads' fire, but its efforts had to be restricted to keeping the nearby vegetation from burning. Janis was not at the fire.
The department is "not supposed to be doing structure fires," Janis said. "Everything we do is all wild land. We're sent to the scene just to cover the grass."
"That's just it, we have to depend on our volunteer fire departments," he added. "Until we get something together, we're going to continue to have this problem."
Janis, a 15-year veteran firefighter, said he has put out structure fires in the past, but the Wildland Fire Department's hands are tied until further notice from the BIA office in Aberdeen.
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By press time, no one from the Aberdeen BIA office responded to a request for a comment.
As for the Lays Bad family, the next step is to seek a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer, a quest that may be futile, according to Danielle LeBeau, their OST councilwoman.
"I'm not sure if there's any FEMA trailers available this immediate second," she said. "There actually are families that have lost their homes (in fires) from a year ago that are still waiting."
Since the devastating fire in which they lost everything, including baby pictures and cherished eagle feathers, the Lays Bads have been left with few options as they struggle to piece together their lives. The two daughters -- Jessica, 10, and Tepengah, 14 -- attend school at Porcupine Elementary and Pine Ridge High School, respectively.
"They cried so bad that yesterday they were sort of numb," Yolanda said on Tuesday. "In their face, they just don’t have any reaction, you know what I mean? They are just like zombies."
With no insurance on the mobile home, Gary, 44, and Yolanda, 31 declined short-term Red Cross housing assistance and have been living in a tent on their property, while their daughters stay with his mother nearby.
Their tent was damaged in the storms on Tuesday. "We just had to laugh about it," she said.
The family has received some aid, including a small grant of money from the Red Cross for food and clothes; school clothes and some supplies from friends; and blankets donated through the school.
Thousands of mobile homes like the Lays Bads' are on the reservation, Rodriguez, who is distantly related to Gary, said. That is troubling, Rodriguez said, because those homes are highly flammable.
He did not want Pine Ridge residents to think "no one's there to save them if they are trapped in a home," he said. "We don't want something to seriously happen and lives lost, and then we do something. I take this as a serious threat to our people here."