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Montana rancher recounts firefight as high winds pushed flames toward home

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Posted at 10:22 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-19 00:22:59-05

WEST ROSEBUD - High winds, dry fuels and a spark quickly devoured more than 1,000 acres in the West Rosebud this week.

Fast-moving flames forced evacuations before the fire came within feet of people’s homes.

Montana native and ranch owner Dwight MacKay didn’t expect to find his house when he drove up to the flames on Monday.

Photos from a security camera show raging winds forced flames through the Good Medicine Ranch, scorching ground and coming within feet of the family home. When asked if he was scared, he said, “A little.”

So when he found the structure intact, he jumped in the fight.

“It took from about midnight to seven or eight in the morning before it's, 'we got it stopped right there at the fence line,'” McKay said Thursday.

Volunteer fire crews responded from across the region.

“With the fire was moving like it was on Monday night, you can't get in front of it,” said Incident Commander and Fire Behaviorist Jon Trapp.

Trapp said this is another example of Montana’s fire season getting longer, as the severe drought extends the season deep into the fall and likely into the winter.

It makes for a cold firefight. Trapp and MacKay both talked about fire tanks freezing overnight, and because of the same concern, crews can’t leave hoses out where they are working on hotspots.

As crews continue to mop up around the Good Medicine Ranch, Trapp said the fire will remain a threat. “These heavier root systems and downed, we call them thousand-hour fuels, they can hold heat for a long time. So in some cases, weeks, in some areas, months.”

The snow coming will help, but in the current drought, cold conditions it will also make for a more difficult winter firefight.

Both Trapp and MacKay asked people to please be careful and realize it only takes a spark, and fire crews will be back out on the lines fighting to protect people’s homes.

Something MacKay is grateful for.

“By God, I'll tell you one thing we got some damn good volunteer people in Montana that jumped to it right away and just these guys, give her hell and save the day,” he said.

Fire teams that responded to the Rosebud Fire included: the Bureau of Land Mangement, U.S. Forest Service, Montana DNRC, and fire departments from Absarokee, Columbus, Shepherd, Red Lodge, Lewistown, Nye, Big Timber, Reed Point, Bridger, Roberts, Park City and Laurel.