“If there’s a silver lining to this,” Fergus County Sheriff Rick Vaughn said, “it’s seeing how Montanans help Montanans out.”
Sheriff Vaughn is dead right.
“This” was the tragic fire that burned 25 homes, six commercial buildings and 18 garages and other secondary structures in the central Montana farm community of Denton last week.
Fire crews from across the state answered the mutual aid call for Denton. And so did volunteers from nearby towns like Winifred and Moulton and Stanford and Geyser. And some from much farther away.
Incident Commander Don Pyrah said they made a huge difference.
“There was a lot of great efforts and it looks bad, but it could have been worse,” Pyrah said. “Kudos go to the fire department and those folks that showed up. They did a yeoman’s effort. … I’m sorry for the structural losses, but we didn’t lose a human life.”
Denton’s Jack Cutter said, “The overwhelming support we received, from Glasgow to Missoula, from Red Lodge to Havre, the people that were here, the camaraderie that went along with it, the support that we received, it’s just heartfelt.”
Oddly and regrettably, the West Wind Fire was not the only event that caused grievous damage in the state last week — and also not the only one in which volunteers from across the state stepped up.
The failure of a part on Hebgen Lake Dam caused the Madison River below the dam to be all but dewatered.
Volunteers rushed to one of the most beloved fisheries in the state, helping however they could, carefully rescuing stranded brown trout and moving them to areas of the river with sufficient flow.
They were responsible, careful of the many eggs from the browns’ just-completed spawning season. They came by the dozens to help to save the stretch of river between the dam and Ennis Lake, affectionately called the “50-mile riffle” by trout-fishers. It is one of the iconic places in all of fishing. It’s like fly-fishing in a cathedral.
Of course the Denton fire is orders of magnitude more serious than a fishery cataclysm. But the thing the two disasters had in common was that they are the two most recent demonstrations of the incredible character of this state.
For centuries, as long as humans have walked this ground, they have depended upon each other for survival, and doing so — both natives and eventually the rest of us immigrants — was a matter of life and death. Harsh weather and big country guaranteed that.
Modern-day Montana has clung to that ethos of neighbor helping neighbor.
It’s one of the best things about being Montanan.
— The Billings Gazette
The Billings Gazette Editorial Board includes President and Publisher Dave Worstell, Regional Editor David McCumber, and Chief Photographer Larry Mayer.
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