The Cascade County Sheriff's Office said in a press release on Wednesday that Monday's wildland fire just north of Great Falls burned an estimated 16,000 acres, and may have been caused by three people who were target shooting.
The fire was reported just after 1 p.m. on Monday, when Dispatch received a 911 call from a male stating that a fire had started on grassland near mile marker 9 on Stuckey Road.
Deputies were dispatched to begin evacuation notifications. The fire had already spread to more than 50 acres and threatened the four homes on Thunder Road. The fire then spread southeast.
A Sheriff's deputy then made contact with the original complainant (911 caller), who said that that he and two other males had been target shooting with steel targets and Tannerite, which is an explosive target, according to the Sheriff's Office. All three males admitted using the Tannerite in the middle of the field. The three are cooperating with the investigation; there is no word yet on whether they may face charges.
Deputies began to give emergency evacuation notices for residents of Cove Lane and Golden Valley Loop.
According to Vaughn Fire Chief Jason McAllister, one unoccupied residence and eight outbuildings in the Golden Valley Loop area were lost. Chief McAllister said the fire burned approximately 16,000 acres.
At around 7 p.m., the Sheriff's Office announced that the fire had been contained, and residents were allowed back onto their properties. There were no injuries reported.
In addition to the Cascade County Sheriff's Office and Great Falls Police Department, firefighters from the following communities were involved: Vaughn, Sun Prairie, Gore Hill, Manchester, Ulm, Sun River, Simms, Belt, Cascade, Sand Coulee, Fairfield, Power, Fort Shaw, Malmstrom AFB, Great Falls, Black Eagle, and Knees.
The fire also damaged several utility poles in the area, causing a power outage for hundreds of people stretching to Sun Prairie, Vaughn, and Power. Power was restored within two hours by NorthWestern Energy.
(Reported by Elizabeth Transue ) Residents outside of Great Falls are cleaning up after a Labor Day fire.
“I came out here from town approximately 2 o’clock and I seen some smoke along the horizon over here a couple miles away,” resident Stanley Clinton said.
The fire ignited just after 1 p.m. on Monday. Residents in the area say it spread fast.
“The wind was blowing southwest like it normally does and I didn’t have any concerns,” Clinton said.
It wasn’t long before the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office evacuated Golden Valley Loop and the surrounding areas.
“We loaded up our three dogs and the wife and went in to town and spent some time at a friend’s house until it all was brought under control,” Clinton said. “They didn’t have to tell me to leave. I assumed it was the thing to do. It was frightening.”
Around 7 p.m. CCSO announced the fire was contained and residents were allowed back onto their properties.
“It’s a difficult thing to see,” resident Chad Danielson said.
Danielson says he estimates he lost $15-20,000 of property.
“There used to be a building standing here that was I don’t even know how many thousand dollars’ worth of stuff was burnt up that was in there that belonged to me,” Danielson said. “It’s hard. It’s hard to look at it. You work your whole life to buy these toys and their gone.”
At this time the cause and the size of the fire are unknown.
“The smell is going to hang on for a long time until we get some rain or something,” Clinton said.