One year later: Denton chief recalls historic fire

Denton residents survey damage after devastating fire
Town of Denton reeling from loss of homes and grain elevators
Posted at 10:57 AM, Dec 02, 2022

A year after a devastating fire ripped through the community of Denton, Fire Chief Mike DeVries is still in awe of the help from neighboring departments.

One year later: Denton chief recalls historic fire

“That mutual aid was everything to us, we would have lost the whole town without that mutual aid of so many communities,” said DeVries.

Devries has fought many fires during his time as Denton fire chief. But when a call for a fire west of town came in late in the evening of November 30th of last year, he could sense something was different.

“Right away I got dry mouth and a knot in my stomach,” said Devries. “It just didn’t feel right. This was closing in on the first of December. It was too warm and too windy and too dry.”

Fire in Denton, Montana
Fire in Denton, Montana

He spent the night rallying resources in hopes of slowing the fire as it made its way along Coffee Creek, headed towards Denton.

By 5 the next morning, firefighters thought they had the upper hand. Some were even sent home. But a closer look would prove otherwise.

“Coming back to town we could see a big increase in particulate,” said DeVries. “You couldn’t tell if it was dust or if it was smoke. In the end it was smoke and it had relit, basically on the head.”

Crews jumped back into action, and firefighters were called back. The fire went under a railroad trestle and took out a highway bridge, limiting access.

Denton residents survey damage after devastating fire

DeVries knew the fire was going to “bump” town. He believes it was it was an ember cast from the fire’s powerful winds that took out the town’s landmark grain elevator.

“I’ve told people you could take a kid out there with a 15 pound propane bottle in June and you couldn’t light that bridge,” said DeVries. “It’s usually stuck in the mud and the creek was dry.”

Firefighters did what they could to keep the fire on the outskirts of town. Even with more help arriving, overcoming the wind proved difficult.

“We learned a lot about fire mitigation around your property,” said DeVries. “Anybody that had shrubs, junipers up against the house, we had a very difficult time saving those homes. And not without damage. A lot of them had burnt siding and if it got into the soffits, we lost those houses.”

Governor meets with fire victims in Denton
Governor meets with fire victims in Denton

Because it was so late in the year, the state had long since demobilized many resources. DeVries wasn’t surprised by the amount mutual aid or by the community outpouring of support which became evident during the Taylor Fire almost four months earlier.

DeVries says the fire reinforced a need for more training, especially when it comes to structure protection. And while he appreciates the volunteers who have joined the force as a result of the Westwind Fire and the previous Taylor Fire, they could always use more.

“We survive on volunteer help,” said DeVries. “Whether it’s the EMS crews, whether it’s the fire department. I would encourage anybody that wants to help out start there.”