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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Shod horse starts one of two weekend fires

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

A couple of major wildfires kept the Dawson County Rural Fire Department and other firefighting agencies from around the region tied up for most of this past weekend.

The first fire struck last Friday afternoon. The DCRFD was paged out at 1:16 p.m. to a report of a grass fire off of County Road 544. They initially responded with two grass rigs, two water tenders and six firefighters, and were later joined by two of the DCRFD’s satellite trucks, another grass rig stationed out of Bloomfield and the Richey Volunteer Fire Department.

County Fire Chief Richie Crisafulli said he called in extra resources to the fire because it was posing a direct threat to two residences across the road from where the blaze was as the wind pushed the fire in their direction.

“Why we called in so many resources was that it was burning towards two of (the landowner’s) neighbors’ residences,” Crisafulli said. “It was quite an intense ordeal for a while, but we were able to get it stopped at the road just prior to their houses.”

During the course of the fire, Crisafulli was paged by dispatch to report another sighting of smoke in the area. Unable to pull any resources off the intense blaze they were already fighting, he asked the Savage Volunteer Fire Department to go check it out. Crisafulli thanked them for doing so, as the SVFD located another 200-acre fire on the Dawson-Richland county line which they extinguished.

As for the fire the DCRFD was fighting, Crisafulli said it burned 240 acres before the fire crew was able to extinguish it and return the station at about 10:45 p.m. He left 4,000 gallons of water in portable containers with the landowner as a precaution.

The cause of the fire was a little odd. Crisafulli said it’s pretty clear it was caused by the horseshoe of a shod horse striking a rock and creating a spark which ignited the bone-dry prairie grass.

“They were out gathering cattle, and the landowner said they turned around and the fire had started behind them,” Crisafulli said.

The DCRFD’s work was not done, however, as another major wildfire would occupy most of their time for the next two days.

On Saturday, they were paged out at 3:04 p.m. to a report of a grass fire approximately 21 miles north of Glendive off of Highway 16. The DCRFD initially responded with three grass rigs, two water tenders, two satellite trucks and also called in mutual aid from the SVFD right from the get-go.

Upon arriving on the scene, however, Crisafulli said he quickly realized he had more trouble than the initial response team could handle on their own.

“With the winds, (the fire) blew across the railroad tracks, across the (Intake) canal and down to the irrigated river bottom where it got into some heavy cottonwoods,” Crisafulli said. “We determined this was more than we were going to be able to handle with all the trees.”

So Crisafulli called in aid from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The DNRC responded with a “strike team” out of Miles City which included eight more grass rigs, a bulldozer and a helicopter. All told, Crisafulli noted that the helicopter alone made some 55 “bucket dumps” on the fire, scooping water out of the Intake canal.

The DCRFD crew stayed on the scene until 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning, leaving the DNRC team to cover the site overnight. Dawson County firefighters headed back out after a few hours sleep at 7 a.m. Sunday morning and continued to work to mop up the blaze until 8:45 p.m. Sunday evening.

In the end, the fire burned 107 acres along the Yellowstone. Crisafulli said the fire was started by a piece of farm equipment operating in a landowner’s yard.

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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