DENTON — It's been several days since the West Wind Fire tore through the town of Denton, and now the small community is rallying together to overcome this disaster.
The town was evacuated just minutes before the fast-moving fire swept across the town on Wednesday, December 1, 2021. While there were no serious injuries reported, the fire destroyed or damaged many structures, including grain elevators and a bridge.
The fire burned more than 10,000 acres, and was 58% contained as of Saturday morning. The Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation said that fire officials believe it will be mostly contained by the end of the day; crews will remain to address a smoldering grain pile in Denton.
Between burned-down grain elevators, destroyed homes, and families being displaced, Denton has been through more than any of its 200 or so residents could imagine.
What appeared to be mostly black scorch marks surrounding Denton just days ago now is covered in white snow, but the damage is still very evident with a big burning pile of grain on the west side of town.
The fire is mostly out but there is still lots of work to do to repair what was lost in the fire.
The town hosted a community meeting Saturday morning to recap the last week and discuss where to go from here.
For some people, that’s easier said than done. Nearly 50 homes and other structures were lost in the fire, including Josh Poser’s home.
Poser said, “Our home was burned. It was the last one to go. They saved the structure as far as that, it’s still standing, but everything inside is a total loss. The floor caved in. The ceiling caved in. They thought we had it all under control. An ember got in through the basement window and started slowly in the basement. There was so much smoke in town they couldn’t tell that it was burning. About four in the morning, I got a call saying it was up in flames. It’s gone.”
Poser was raised in Denton and said he’s seen an outpouring of response and help since his home was destroyed, and is grateful to live in such a supportive community.
“The outpouring of support is amazing. Everyone here in our little town is doing everything they can to help. It’s probably one of the friendliest towns on the planet. It really is. We’re close. Everybody’s close. We’ve got to figure out how to rebuild together. It’s going to take an awful lot of help,” Poser said.
While there are still more questions than answers at this point, work continues to be done and if you ask the people that make up the small Fergus County community, they’ll all tell you Denton is as tough as they come.
Fire Chief Mike DeVries credited his young crew that has been put to the test time and time again this year with the extended heat throughout the summer and even into December now. He said he was proud of and grateful for the mutual aid effort for avoiding loss of life and for a quick reaction to the blaze.
“We’ve literally been baptized by fire this year. There’s just no other way to put it,” DeVries said. “We’ve gained more experience than we ever hoped we’d get. We needed eyes out there telling us we need help over here. And so, I knew how it was going to go. That’s just how people are here. Everybody shows up. My wife and I have been here almost 18 years and it’s a great place to live. People just look out for people. You can see it in this.”
Officials say that a crucial next step is to assess the damage and for homeowners to contact their insurance companies. If you have been displaced due to the loss of your house, you're asked to call the American Red Cross at 1-800-272-6668 or stop by the Civic Center 309 5th Avenue South in Lewistown. You can also call the Salvation Army at 406-366-2982 or 206-280-9787.
The Fergus County Sheriff’s Office released a partial list of properties that were destroyed; a more comprehensive list will be released as damage assessments continue.
- 1210 Buena Vista
- 600 Main St 700 Lehman
- 610 Main St 701 Lehman
- 612 Main St 702 Lehman
- 616 Main St 703 Lehman
- 618 Main St 706 Lehman
- 716 Main St 710 Lehman
- 804 Lehman 815 Lehman
- 819 Lehman 910 Lehman
- 305 Railroad Ave 505 Railroad Ave
- 205 Keirstad 207 Keirstad
- 209 Keirstad 211 Keirstad
- 201 Ketchner 505 Ketchner
Here are some ways that you can help the affected people:
- 406 Gives: Monetary donations are now being accepted for the West Wind/ Denton Fire. ALL proceeds will go to support firefighting efforts and local home, business and ranch recovery. If you would like to donate by cash or check, you may leave donations at Stockman Bank or mail to Montana Winter Fair, PO Box 931, Lewistown, MT 59457. Checks should be made out to Montana Winter Fair with West Wind/ Denton Fire in the memo area. Please do not mail cash. Click here if you would like to donate.
- Alicia Rutz has created a GoFundMe. It states: "A large fire is sweeping across this beautiful community and it’s still not contained, many homes and businesses have been lost and we need your help. It all adds up, so any amount you are willing to give will make a difference. Let’s rally together as a State and show Denton we are here!" Click here if you would like to donate.
- Opportunity Bank of Montana has created the Denton Fire Relief Fund with an initial deposit of $2,500 and an additional $5,000 in matching donations to benefit victims and evacuees. Checks can be made payable to the Denton Fire Relief Fund and mailed to the bank at PO Box 1047, Denton, MT, or accepted at any Opportunity Bank branch statewide. Funds will be distributed through non-profit agencies directly to victims with immediate needs.
- The Montana Winter Fair website has information about monetary and other donations - click here for details.