Independent Record, Helena, Mont.
Jun. 18—Linda and Doug Thomas had just cleaned the raspberry beds Sunday at their home of 30 years on five acres at the bottom of Windy Ridge Mountain along Highway 12 and were enjoying a cool drink on the deck when a firefighter came driving up to the house beeping the horn on his vehicle.
He said there was a fire and they should evacuate.
The family grabbed their clothes and left. The fire changed course, and things were looking good, Linda Thomas recalled, and she said they were told that it would take a catastrophic event to bring the fire back their way.
On June 15, as Linda Thomas recalled, that catastrophic event happened.
The fire hit the creek and everything around it disintegrated.
She said her husband and son, Zane, were able to get a few things, such as important papers and pictures. But the rest is gone. As of Friday, U.S. Forest Service officials said one structure had been destroyed in the Deep Creek Canyon Fire that has been burning since Sunday afternoon.
A gofundme page (https://gf.me/v/c/r27/thomas-family-home-lost-to-wildfire) set up for the family by their friends, Kiley and Linda Morrish, said the Thomases lost their family home and their storage and outbuildings.
The only “thing remaining is the green house,” the page says. As of Friday afternoon, 38 people had donated $3,010 toward the $5,000 goal.
Thomas said fires were not uncommon for the family and there have been a few over the years.
“But we could live in town and our house could burn down for whatever reason,” she said, adding they won’t let those circumstances keep them from living up there. She said they will rebuild and continue the “new chapter” of their lives. The family likes the peace, quiet and wildlife of where they live.
They are not part of the Grassy Mountain Subdivision, which was evacuated.
Linda Thomas, who said they are staying with friends, said she has not had time to grieve.
“I am just relying on my faith and I know that things will be alright,” she said.
The number of personnel fighting a wildfire about 18 miles east of Townsend has grown to 216, a fire spokeswoman said Friday about the fire that has burned 4,647 acres so far.
She said structure protection personnel have been placed in the Grassy Mountain Subdivision near White Sulphur Springs subdivision.
There is no estimate on containment yet, said Margie Ferrucci, spokeswoman for the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team 1. July 1 was listed as the estimated containment date on the inciweb.nwcg.gov website.
“A break in the weather has allowed for resources to make gains on suppression efforts. Minimal growth to the north and east were observed in the fire area…” officials wrote.
She said firefighters are working on the south end of the fire that started about 3:45 p.m. Sunday in the Big Belt Mountains in the Townsend Ranger District of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.
Ferrucci said the north side of the blaze, believed to have been caused by a down power line, has spotty edges and has been difficult to access due to spotty terrain.
“Weather is the key for how things go, we are hoping for a cold front,” she said.
Fire officials said winds are likely to remain relatively light for the next couple of days. However, Saturday’s forecast includes a “frontal passage with gusty and erratic winds. Confidence in moisture levels is still uncertain at this time, but widespread moisture on Sunday … is likely.”
Ferrucci said three injuries have been reported but could not provide further details.
Highway 12 was reopened, Ferrucci said, but officials are asking people to avoid the roadway, and if they do use it, to expect delays.
The Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office posted that people who would like to donate water, food and other items should call Pastor Eric Krueger at 406-465-5895. Monetary donations can be taken to Opportunity Bank and deposited into the Broadwater County Fire Fund.
Also on Friday, Gov. Greg Gianforte issued an executive order waiving restrictions on the service hours for certain commercial trucks that distribute fuel used for airports and tanker bases that support fire suppression efforts.
On Tuesday, roughly 60 homes in the Grassy Mountain Subdivision and about 130 residents of the Springdale Hutterite Colony were evacuated and a helicopter from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation crash landed amid high winds, tipped onto its side and caught on fire. Minor injuries were reported among the five agency personnel aboard, authorities said. The DNRC grounded its fleet for 48 hours out of what officials said was an abundance of caution. The aircraft returned to duty Friday.
Ferrucci also asked people not to fly drones to scout the fire, adding the firefighting aircraft cannot drop water if drones are in the way.
A Type 1 team has been put in charge of the blaze. These teams have the resources and experience to handle the most complex fires and are made up of personnel from several agencies.
Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.
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