Talon News - Good Local News

By Amber Michelle


Family's Home Burns


J.R. Sykes

On March 31, 2017, TALON ran a story about a lovely farm in Aztec called Unique Le' Natural, owned and operated by Brian and Heather McCollaum. Three weeks ago, a close family member succumbed to his battle with cancer. Two weeks ago their home was gutted by fire. And for the last week they've spent their evenings, listing everything that burned, trying to put a price on things they can never replace.

"Our family photos, important papers, our clothes, our keepsakes, sentimental heirlooms, are all gone. Everything that is usually in a master bedroom, think about it. It's all gone," Brian said in lingering disbelief. The photos don't even begin to tell the story of the damage. The smell was acrid and made the hair stand up on my neck. What could have happened if it had been in the middle of the night, is unthinkable. The char and smoke damage made me tear up. All gone. "It's not the hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars in soap supplies that have me upset, it's this cabinet. Everything I had of my grandmother's was in this cabinet," laments Heather. While Brian was milking goats late in the afternoon, Heather was running errands. The fire started on the other side of the property and an unknown man came to their house and started yelling, "Hey is anybody here?" Brian came out of the barn to find his home on fire and immediately turned on two hoses and started spraying at the flames with the man.

Heather was driving home and saw what she thought was a "really mean dirt devil," then saw it change color and smelled smoke. She knew it was a fire, but to discover seconds later that it was her own place threw her into a panic to gather her animals as quickly as possible. "My dogs made it and the other animals are fine and most of the cats. We lost a litter of kittens," says Heather. Every animal on this farm has a name and they each come running when called. It's amazing. The fire department responded, as did EMS. The McCollaums received oxygen for smoke inhalation. The unknown man disappeared. They have no idea who he is.

Heather and Brian are temporarily sleeping in a shed on the property. It's finished inside with drywall and has a wood burning stove, a bed and a chair. To the side is a make-shift bathroom with a portable commode and a shower with an on-demand hot water unit hooked up to a hose. They are washing the few clothes they've picked up from thrift stores with a small portable washing machine. It washes 11 pounds of laundry (2 pair of work pants and a couple shirts) at a time, and you have to drain it and refill it to rinse and spin. She hangs them on the line. They've run an electrical line to the "cabin," but before that they had only a solar lantern. Fortunately the lantern could also charge their phones. So while they're grateful to have these things, and each other, everything is more work. Farming and producing quality products is enough work without adding steps to everyday tasks. Still, they have very proficiently set up a work space with electricity and hot water.

Amber Michelle

Grandma's cabinet

"This burned up old rifle and this simple band of gold is all I have left of my father's things," says Brian. The work involved in cleaning up, dealing with paperwork and reports, along with the extra work of moving animals, setting up an immediate new work space has taken the two of them working 20 hour days. "It's market season," Heather reports. "We cannot afford to just stop." Their resilience is admirable. I suggested Heather take a day to let others help and stay in a motel for a night, have a nice meal, instead of re-heated take-out. "I don't want to leave. I want to go to bed at night with my 'babies' around me," she responded. She and Brian are moving forward without much time to reflect or regroup or to even mourn the man they called Papa Peter. The realization of things comes in waves, the tears are just under the surface and the inability to control them at times seems indulgent and unaffordable.

You can support them by buying their products, or by donating anything; animal feed, gift cards, building supplies, soap making supplies, labeling supplies, printing, or donating at their help page GoFundMe.com/ Home Fire Help for the McCollaums.


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