PHILIPSBURG — At Philipsburg Public Schools, there is a music teacher named Jill Waldbillig who wanted to teach her students about the power of helping others - and when her hometown of Denton was struck with tragedy, she and her K-12 students jumped into action.
On December 1, 2021, the community of Denton in Fergus County was devastated by a fast-moving wildfire. The West Wind Fire forced the evacuation of the entire town; at least 13 homes were destroyed in that community as well as businesses, bridges, and grain elevators, and many other structures were heavily damaged.
Waldbillig is the Philipsburg Public Schools K-12 music teacher. With family and friends still living in the Denton, she was shocked to hear about the wildfire and devastated to hear about the loss to her hometown.
Waldbillig knew she wanted to help those who were in need, so she gathered her students together and started a fundraiser.
Part of the fundraiser allows students to pay $1 to wear a hat to school; they can pay $3 for a snack and can bring in money to their teacher.
Learning the power of community and helping those in need, by having a little bit of fun too.
Waldbillig says she wasn’t sure how much money they have raised just yet, as donations are still coming in. But she plans on accepting donations as long as they come, and there is a need.
The landscape of Denton may have changed, but the strength of the community hasn't.
“But the thing that hasn't changed, people are resilient, and people in central Montana are especially so, and they reach out and help each other," Waldbillig told MTN News.
There are several ways you can help the people affected by the fire.
- 406 Gives: Monetary donations are now being accepted for the West Wind/ Denton Fire. ALL proceeds will go to support firefighting efforts and local home, business and ranch recovery. If you would like to donate by cash or check, you may leave donations at Stockman Bank or mail to Montana Winter Fair, PO Box 931, Lewistown, MT 59457. Checks should be made out to Montana Winter Fair with West Wind/ Denton Fire in the memo area. Please do not mail cash. Click here if you would like to donate.
- Alicia Rutz has created a GoFundMe. It states: "A large fire is sweeping across this beautiful community and it’s still not contained, many homes and businesses have been lost and we need your help. It all adds up, so any amount you are willing to give will make a difference. Let’s rally together as a State and show Denton we are here!" Click here if you would like to donate.
- Opportunity Bank of Montana has created the Denton Fire Relief Fund with an initial deposit of $2,500 and an additional $5,000 in matching donations to benefit victims and evacuees. Checks can be made payable to the Denton Fire Relief Fund and mailed to the bank at PO Box 1047, Denton, MT, or accepted at any Opportunity Bank branch statewide. Funds will be distributed through non-profit agencies directly to victims with immediate needs.
- The Montana Winter Fair website has information about monetary and other donations - click here for details.