GREAT FALLS — It's been nearly one month since the devastating fire in Gibson Flats area that adjoins southeast Great Falls, destroying 11 homes and numerous other structures and vehicles.
In the aftermath of the fire, Great Falls Fire Rescue has developed improvement plans to better prepare for incidents like the event that occurred on the morning of Wednesday, December 1st.
Katie Brewer, Community Risk Reduction Manager, explained, "We began the improvement plan and discussions immediately after the fire. A couple weeks later, we ended up having a meeting that included all responding agencies. That included law enforcement, our volunteer fire departments, Malmstrom, obviously Great Falls Fire Rescue, and other agencies as well such as the Red Cross."
When the improvement plan will go into effect is dependent on a variety of factors.
Brewer noted, "We want them to be finalized as soon as possible, but we also want to make sure that the appropriate agencies and community partners have their input and eyes on them. We always come back and reassess and make sure that there still valid and keep that ongoing."
Great Falls Fire Chief Jeremy Jones stressed the importance in developing the improvement plan and how to keep the Great Falls community as safe as possible.
He said, "Coordination amongst our rural, regional, state, and federal facilities is crucial to be able to mitigate any type of emergency that is brought before us."
The report provides this overview of the fire:
High winds occurring at 34mph with gusts up to 54mph. What initially started as grassland fire, expanded to the neighborhood west of Eaton Avenue and south of 33rd Ave South/Gibson Flats Road. Fire covered 112 acres, destroying 11 homes, 7 outbuildings and multiple vehicles. A second grassfire occurred to the southeast of the initial grassfire. Multiple agencies responded. CCSO conducted evacuations.
Volunteer Fire Departments including: Sand Coulee VFD (Incident Command), Black Eagle VFD, Belt VFD, Vaughn VFD and Gore Hill VFD. Great Falls Fire Rescue, Malmstrom Fire Department, and MT Air National Guard Fire Department, also responded. There were over 100 responders and up to 75 response vehicles. Natural gas continued to feed structural fires until Energy West was able to turn off gas, affecting utilities in thesouthern section of the Great Falls. 65 people were evacuated. Shelter was set up by American Red Cross (ARC) at Central Catholic High School.
While GFFR is developing their own ways to improve on responding to fire emergencies, the role of community members to keep each other safe remains just as important.
Jones explained, "One of the easiest ones they can do is get a hold of us and get on the Code Red app. This is a county-wide tool for mass notification of civilians. We use it internally within our department to get a common message out. To be able to evacuate people that the fire might be getting to next. You have limited resources when you get on the scene, so whatever tools we can get, help."
Click here to learn more about the Code Red app.
Three people are facing criminal charges for allegedly causing the Gibson Flats Fire: Brandon Cordell Bennett,, Jr. 18 years old; Jevin James Mclean, 19; and Galvinn Coates Munson, 19. Click here for details.