Big Sky Roundup

Gov. Gianforte visits Denton; fire 0 percent contained, but wind decrease helping personnel

By: - December 3, 2021 5:32 pm

Provided by Gov. Greg Gianforte’s Office.

The West Wind fire that burned Denton was still 0 percent contained late Friday afternoon, but Nick Holloway, public information officer on the burn, expected containment to tick up in the next day or so with a drop in wind and 177 personnel at work.

He said a public meeting is scheduled to take place 10 a.m. Saturday at the Denton High School. InciWeb counted 10,644 acres burned.

Friday, Holloway said Gov. Greg Gianforte came to a meeting to hear a briefing from the incident command team: “He expressed concern for the citizens because they’ve gone through a very tough time, and this is the third big fire they’ve seen this year.”

In a statement, Gianforte thanked responders and residents, and he praised the fact there was no serious injury or loss of life.

Provided by the Fergus County Sheriff’s Office with credit to Sgt. Jeremy Johnson.

“Our central Montana communities are tight-knit and like family,” the governor said in a statement. “Their people are resilient, and that resilience has been on display for our entire state in Denton this week. The people of Denton have my commitment that we will bring every available resource to bear to support them in the wake of the West Wind Fire. Montana stands with Denton.” 

Holloway also stressed there were no fatalities. He said the American Red Cross helped six people with housing the first night and four the second night, but most of the 300 people who had lived in the town are staying with friends or family.

“That’s pretty typical in Montana. We’re a pretty resilient population,” he said.

He said the initial but not final damage assessment counts 25 primary residences destroyed, two primary residences damaged, two secondary residences destroyed, 18 secondary structures such as garages or sheds destroyed, and six primary commercial structures destroyed.

“Residents will tell you, as well as responders, that had it not been for that very robust mutual aid response, the outcome likely would have been much worse,” Holloway said. “Despite having lost as much as they did, which was significant, it would have been worse.”

In Montana, fire season is starting earlier and running longer, a fire ecologist said this week. Drought, dry fuels and strong winds have fanned flames in other places in the state as well even though it’s usually a time Montana sees more snow than smoke.

The cause of the West Wind fire remains under investigation. According to InciWeb, the fire is continuing to smolder, but the possibility of spread is minimal, and containment is projected by this Sunday, Dec. 5.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”