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    Posted July 6, 2012 by
    Sonnette, Montana
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Wildfires blazing near you

    Terror in the form of flames


    The Ash Creek Fire is currently the largest fire in the United States - And it’s being fought primarily by local ranchers and volunteer firefighters. This fiery beast has charred nearly 500 square miles in the southeastern corner of Montana, approaching 300k acres. The fire, which was started by a lightning strike east of Lame Deer, has now been reported as the largest fire in Montana since the deadly fires of 1910.


    Ranchers and volunteer firefighters have been working round the clock for nearly 2 weeks straight, averaging 2-3 hours of sleep a night. They have pooled every possible resource- manning pickup trucks with sprayers, tractors pulling discs, a few dozers, while others stand afoot hoisting chainsaws and shovels. They are exhausted, hungry, and desperate. Day after day ranchers watch their hopes, dreams and hard work burn up and turn to ash. Some have lost their homes, others their equipment, but many have lost their land, their cows, and their livelihood.


    One witness called this fire "the scariest thing I’ve ever seen… unruly and devastating… a tragedy". They described walls of fire reaching hundreds of feet into the air, traveling at speeds up to 15 mph, and changing directions in a blink of an eye. To add to the pandemonium, over 450 miles of power line was scorched in the flames, leaving hundreds of people, including the town of Broadus, without electricity, water, or phone service for the past week. The lack of communication has left some people in fear, praying their loved-ones are still alive.


    It is estimated that over 13,000 cattle have been displaced in the fire. One rancher said “We cut the fence lines, hoping that the cows would be able to escape the blaze… but the fire was traveling too fast- they couldn’t outrun it… when I walked up a draw today, I found where the cows had huddled together and were burnt to death. The sight was unbelievable… grotesque. And now I have to tell my wife which bullets go into which guns, so we can put the burnt ones out of their misery.”


    This isn't over when the fire is out. The aftermath will last for years. “These are old family ranches, ones that have been around for generations, and now that they have lost everything… well, that’s pretty hard to come back from”. Frustration is high, spirits are broken, and these humble people from Montana need help.


    -     To donate or sell hay: Randy Ward (Vet in Powder River County) 406-935-2563.

    -     Money or other disaster relief items: Becky McEuen (Powder Rivers Disaster Services) 406-853-4284

    -     Donations to the volunteer firefighters: Broadus Volunteer Fire Dept, Box 516, Broadus, MT 59317

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