'From the ashes': Bridger Foothills homeowners rebuild after losing home to wildfire last year

Bill Feniger's property.jpg
Posted at 10:42 AM, Sep 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-14 12:42:19-04

BOZEMAN — One year ago, dozens of homes were destroyed by the Bridger Foothills Fire, and MTN News was one of the first crews to come up into the burn scar while the fire continued to burn.

Meanwhile, just down the hill from the foothills themselves, thousands were coming together to raise and rally donations for those who lost their homes.

Bill Feniger’s home was one of them.

We visited him last time, and now he is rebuilding.

“It’s been a long year, trying to figure it all out,” Feniger says.

Driving up the road to where Bill Feniger’s home used to stand is a drive through a color spectrum; the trees turn from green back to black and brown.

To Bill, with around 30 homes lost, a total of 68 structures destroyed, it’s like night and day a year later.

“In our development, five houses were lost out of 22,” Feniger says. “Everything was still so black. We took down almost 1,500 trees on our 25 acres.”

Looking back to that day and the last few seconds of front-porch footage captured on Bill’s home camera, he and his wife, Sally, lost everything in seconds.

But while he remembers that part, that’s not the part he holds onto now.

“The core of the people that we know for all of those years is what has risen to the occasion for Sally and I,” Feniger says.

Neighbors helping neighbors.

“[The owner of the ironworks on Bridger Canyon Road] has offered and is donating to build me a new flagpole,” Feniger says.

Bill’s American flag, once a viral image on social media as it stood tattered above the ruins of his home, was replaced by former Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gooktin as the fire continued to burn elsewhere.

That flag is a part of the future ground plan.

And yes, he still has it.

“I’ve told him how much it meant to me and the flag that he put up,” Feniger says. “We’ve kept that flag and that flag will be the one that will fly on the new flagpole. We can look at the mountain and we know what happened. In my lifetime, it will probably be there as a reminder but the immediate surroundings is what has changed. It is amazing how nature preserves the goodness that comes out of the soil. The scars need to be there to remind people what it is all about so we don’t forget that things can happen.”

As for Bill, he says his home is expected to be complete again in one more year.