- Posted July 4, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Wildfires blazing near you
Ash Creek Fire
The lightning-caused fire, reported on June 26, has blackened miles of property and burned nearly 20 homes between Ashland and Broadus. It is 55 percent contained.
Fire officials have continually described the fire’s behavior as erratic and have often kept crews out of its direct path because of its speed and intensity.
“When you have that kind of erratic fire behavior going, you don’t want to take any risks,” said Pat McKelvey, fire information officer. “We want to keep them safe.”
The cold front caused winds to shift, and by 3:45 p.m. the fire “once again responded to weather conditions and is very active,” McKelvey said.
It began moving along northeastern edge in the Beaver and Green Creek areas and on the southwestern edge near Threemile and Tobin creeks.
While fire crews chased flames and put out hot spots, Marian Hanson and her family spent the day surveying and starting to repair the damage at the Double H Ranch, off of East Fork Otter Creek Road.
Since 1959, Hanson, 79, has lived on the property — homesteaded in 1916 by the grandparents of her late husband, Darrel. On Friday, the fire raged through her property, destroying three homestead houses, cattle pasture, a garage with four vehicles, an airplane hangar, numerous corrals and about 150 tons of hay.
“This is the most destruction I’ve ever seen out here, and I’ve been here for 61 years,” Hanson said. “It’s a mess. I don’t know where to start.”
Her house was unharmed, thanks to a neighbor’s advice to put sprinklers on the roof as the fire approached. As she stood 50 yards away at the top of her driveway and watched the flames swallow buildings, whole chunks of land and leave twisted and charred debris behind, she wasn’t sure if she’d have a home when all was said and done.
“They told me that my house had made it through, but I couldn’t see it through the smoke,” she said. “Pretty soon the smoke went up and there was the house, safe and sound.”
The ranch also lost about a half-dozen cattle in the fire. Hanson is looking for the same amount of horses and searching for many more cattle. About 150 tons of hay didn’t burn, and the U.S. Forest Service has found land enough for about 100 animals.
One of her sons, a grandson, several great grandchildren and friends joined Hanson on Tuesday to help cut fence line and sort through the scorched debris.
While there was plenty of damage — she estimated it at about $1 million — Hanson said her spirits were high and that friends and neighbors have been generous in helping out.
“As bad as it looks, it could be worse,” she said. “You’ve got to look at the bright side in these things. Nobody was hurt or killed, the house is here, we’ll recover. We’re trying to get through it as best we can and you’ve to to just get back up and go on.”
Strike teams also were attacking two new fires nearby Tuesday.
“We don’t know much about them yet,” McKelvey said.
Both started east of Fort Howes in the Ashland District of the Custer National Forest. He said one is burning on Indian Creek and the other on Taylor Creek.
Bureau of Land Management crews are doing the initial attack, McKelvey said.
Meanwhile, on the southeast side of the Highway 212, wind is pushing the Ash Creek fire west. The northern portion also made another push at Beaver Creek, where the fire is moving north-northwest.
The Type I incident command team being transferred from the Dahl fire near Roundup to the Horse Creek fire south of Hysham will also take over part of the Ash Creek fire.
The Type II team that has been on the Ash Creek fire will continue to manage firefighting efforts east of the Tongue River. The Type I team will assume control west of the Tongue.
There are now about 600 firefighters working on the fire, with most of them setting up shop at a spike camp — complete with tents for all of the workers, a medical station and a fire information table — near the St. Labre mission in Ashland.
Bernie Pineda, a fire information officer, said most of the people at the outdoor camp are working directly on the fire while administration remains in Colstrip.
“Everybody out there working today will be living here,” he said. “We live very Spartan lives out here but we’re used to it.”
The camp is maintained by a pair of 20-person work crews and and can be planned and constructed in a matter of hours to accommodate more workers.
While meals have been shipped in from Colstrip the past few days, a mobile kitchen is scheduled to arrive soon to cook meals on site.
In Broadus, crews were still working to restore power after it went out about a week ago.
Tongue River Electric Cooperative is busy replacing power poles lost in the Ash Creek fire. A spokeswoman said that Broadus could be back on line later Tuesday.