Musher finishes Iditarod, then learns Montana house destroyed

Posted: Sunday, March 21, 2004

GREAT FALLS, Mont. - Barely an hour after Rick Larson finished his first Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska, he learned his house caught fire and burned to the ground on a bluff overlooking the Montana town of Sand Coulee.

Larson crossed the Iditarod finish line in 47th place at 7:59 a.m. AST Friday. The first report of a fire at his house came in at 9:18 a.m. Friday.

Winds of 35 miles an hour made attempts to save the house futile, officials said.

A Larson family pet fox and two ferrets died in the fire, but racing dogs that were left behind survived in a nearby area.

A Cascade County fire official said an electrical malfunction may have started the fire.

The musher's father, Richard Larson of Great Falls, noted his son and daughter-in-law Sandy had put a new roof on the house following hail damage last year.

"The kid works so hard," Richard Larson said. He lamented how quickly his son's finish in the race was followed by disaster.

"You go from one high to a low," Richard Larson said.

The nine dogs that survived were in pens downwind from the house. Firefighters released them as a precaution.

It was unclear when the Larsons would return from Nome, and they could not be reached by phone.

The 38-year-old musher ran his first distance sled dog race in 1999, and finished in third place in Montana's Race to the Sky last year. Larson had prepared to run in the Iditarod for four years prior to this year's race, which he ran as a rookie.

Larson did not make a profit from the event. The entry fee for the Iditarod race was $1,850. Larson's prize for finishing the race in lower than the 30th spot would be $1,049.

As of Saturday night, 71 of the 87 mushers who started the race had crossed the finish line in Nome. Ten mushers have scratched and six are still on the trail, with rookie Perry Solmonson of Whittier running in 77th and last place after arriving in Elim on Saturday afternoon.

Mitch Seavey of Seward won the 2004 Iditarod on Tuesday night, posting a time of 9 days, 12 hours, 20 minutes, 22 seconds for his first victory in the race. Seavey, who is a member of one of the two three-generation families of Iditarod mushers, won $69,000 and a Dodge pick-up truck for his victory.

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