CHINOOK – According to volunteers, the Eagles Lodge was filled with community members wanting to help crews on the fire line last week after the East Fork Fire quickly grew.
Blaine County MSU Extension Agent Kendra Seilstad started gathering items at her home, but moved to the lodge when more space was needed.
“Donations started flooding in; safety glasses and chapstick and sunscreen and more sandwich stuff,” Seilstad said.
Volunteers packaged and delivered firefighter relief packs filled with essential supplies like travel size deodorant, toothpaste and mouthwash.
Organizers said not every volunteer can be out on the frontlines battling the fire but can help in other ways.
“I’m not a firefighter, I don’t ride horses, I don’t have a horse trailer,” Volunteer Tess Langford said. “This is what I felt that I could do to help and there were so many people that just came in and would bring things and then they would stay and help.”
Langford said a motorcycle accident involving her father five years ago compelled her to become involved in last week’s efforts.
“This community just rallied together and I always said that if I could help one person, whether they were involved in helping him or not, that I would by no means hesitate to do it,” Langford said.
She added that the area hasn’t seen a large fire since the early 1990’s when she was young.
“I remember how terrified everyone was and when the reality of how big this fire was and how big it could get hit, I knew that we needed to do something here in town to help those out there because if the situation were reversed, they would not hesitate to help us and there have been situations where they have helped us,” Langford said.
Along with sandwiches, volunteers made soups and casseroles for firefighters during the week and froze a number of meals to give to crews when the fight is over.
“The reality of this is it’s nowhere near over,” Langford said. “These poor landowners have to fix what is broken and that’s going to take many months to do.”
Seilstad said those wanting to donate to recovery efforts can do so at CHS Big Sky, North 40 or the North Central Montana Stockgrowers Association. She added that 100 percent of the proceeds will go directly to help local landowners who lost land and fencing in the fire.
“This is just like what you do in rural America, in small town Montana I mean,” Langford said. “When you see a need, you just help people whether you know them or not.”
Both Seilstad and Langford said they now have a head start should the fire flare up again over the weekend but plan to donate leftover perishables to local food banks, daycares and other fires burning around the state.
The East Fork Fire burned land in Hill and Blaine counties and the Rocky Boy Reservation. The fire is 90 percent contained and has burned more than 21,000 acres.
The Hill County Sheriff’s Department lifted evacuation orders on Sucker Creek Road and Taylor Road but discourage the public from driving in the area to allow for fire crews and equipment to continue their work.