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Payette rallies around principal, teacher who lost house, cars in fire

The aftermath of the fire.
The aftermath of the fire.

Payette High School Principal Mark Heleker and his wife, Lorrie, a longtime teacher with the district, were not injured in an overnight fire that claimed their house and three vehicles, a fire official said Monday.

Many in the community of 7,500 about 60 miles northwest of Boise have called or stopped to offer assistance to the Helekers.

“Places to stay, clothing, food, cash donations, vehicle, storage space and muscle – all have been offered to the family,” Payette School District Superintendent Pauline King said. “I have spoken to Mark and Lorrie, and they are aware and tremendously grateful for the outpouring of support.”

Mark Heleker, who has worked for the school district since 1994, has been high school principal since 2007. He’s also a former Payette mayor and city councilman. Lorrie Heleker has been with the district since 2004, and she teaches second grade at Payette Primary School.

The couple’s adult daughter woke them around 1 a.m. after she noticed smoke in the garage.

“The daughter just got home from work. That’s when she noticed it,” Payette Rural Fire Department Chief Steve Castenada said.

The Helekers’ daughter made sure several family pets made it out safe too, including a dog, lizard and snake.

The family is taking this one step at a time as they attempt to come to grips with their tremendous loss.

Payette School District Superintendent Pauline King

Castenada said the fire spread quickly from the three-car garage to an upstairs bedroom of the two-story house, then into the attic.

“By the time they got out of the house, one of the cars was already partially involved,” the fire chief said.

Castenada said the house appears to be a total loss, and he wasn’t sure if any of the vehicles are salvageable.

The fire is believed to have started in the garage, but its cause is not yet known. The Idaho State Fire Marshal’s Office has taken the lead on the investigation for the Payette Fire Department, which is staffed by both professional and volunteer firefighters.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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