Help rolls in for fire victims: Lodgepole Complex fire containment grows

By: 
DEB HILL
Managing Editor

A water tanker waits for mop-up crews to arrive on the northeast perimeter of the Lodgepole Complex fire on Monday.

Photo by Jenny Gessaman

Donations are rolling in for those affected by the Lodgepole Complex fires in Garfield and Petroleum counties, as people across Montana, and indeed across the U.S., respond to photos and news reports of the damage. In days to come, local personnel will be busy determining where the worst of the fire damage is located.

 

Damage assessment begins

According to Christi Powell, Public Information Officer for the Lodgepole Complex fire, the fire had burned 270,200 as of Friday afternoon, and was 80 percent contained.

“This morning we got a little rain, maybe three-tenths of an inch,” Powell said. “That helped with the containment efforts. Structure protection is done now, and damage assessment is beginning.”

Sixteen homes or residences burned, Powell said, and an unknown number of barns and outbuildings.

“The county officials will do the detailed damage assessments,” Powell said, “but what we know so far amounts to $6 million and climbing.”

Powell said next week the current fire team will turn the work over to a more local Level III team.

“We are starting to demobilize resources and shift them to other fires requiring more resources,” Powell said. “We had over 610 personnel here and as of today we are down to 553 and dropping.”

Powell went on to say there have been many examples of good will, and many times locals have partnered with the fire fighters to help.

“It can be difficult as you come into a community from outside, but the community has been great to work with,” Powell said.

 

Public response ‘unbelievable’

According to Jeana Stanton, a volunteer working at the VFW post in Jordan, the outpouring is “unbelievable.” Stanton, who is taking time away from her other, paying, jobs, says she has been putting in 15 to 16 hour days, sorting donations and organizing deliveries.

“It started last week when I was telling a friend that someone should do something to arrange food for all the firefighters that were coming in,” Stanton said. “It kind of snowballed from there.”

Stanton said she has a group of volunteers working to sort donations, and has created spreadsheets to try and organize the materials.

“We have so much coming in, I’m not even really sure yet what we have and what we need,” Stanton said. “We’ve had trucks full of t-shirts, socks, hygiene items, food, sandwiches, fruit, chap stick, granola bars – I can’t even remember all of it. We’ve had trucks delivering from Bozeman, Havre, Harden, even a truck that’s coming from North Virginia.”

Stanton said she and her volunteers are working hard to ensure the donations get to those who need them. One problem, though, is that many of those affected by the fire don’t think they should take outside help.

“These are very self-sufficient people,” Stanton said. “I’ve had people who were completely burned out tell me there must be other families that need help more than they do. I’ve been contacting families and letting them know what’s available, and then I have to tell them it’s OK for them to take these donations; that they are the ones the donations are meant for.”

Stanton said some of the donated items have been distributed to Mosby and Winnett to try and make it easier for people to access them.

“We’ve had plenty of cash donations, too,” she said, “but those are being coordinated by others.”

 

Fencing is a big need

Volunteer Lori Murnion of Jordan is organizing donations of fencing materials, which she said are needed immediately.

“Every border fence in the area was destroyed, except what burned in 2003, since those fences were rebuilt using all steel fencing. But right now, even if they have their cattle, families have no way to keep them in,” Murnion said.

Murnion said she has been working 14-hour days coordinating deliveries of fencing materials for the past week. She is encouraging donors to get the materials to Jordan and then call her so she can arrange for volunteers to unload.

Items needed include steel t-posts, wire stretchers, wire pliers, post pounders, barb wire, drill stem for corner posts, wire clips, and 14-inch chop saw blades for cutting the drill stem.

 

Cash donations gratefully accepted

Rex Phipps, CEO of Garfield County Bank in Jordan, said cash might be the best bet for those looking to help out.

“We’ve received so many duplicate items, it’s just hard to coordinate,” he said. “With the cash donations, the Garfield County Fire Foundation will try to distribute to wherever the need is, whether it’s fencing, paying for pasture rent, fuel, whatever. There’s a foundation board, all of them are farmers and ranchers, and they will be meeting Monday to begin making distributions.

“The money donated will go for anyone affected, in any of the three counties. It’s also for those living in the subdivisions, not just for the ranchers and farmers. It’s my understanding that the majority of the homes lost were in those subdivisions.”

Phipps could not give an estimate of the amount donated to date, but said the goal is to raise $500,000. How much is actually needed, he said, is unknown.

 

 

How you can help

Both Stanton and Phipps emphasized those wishing to give specific items should coordinate with organizers to ensure their donations meet actual needs.

Murnion said household items are not needed, as few of the homes that burned were being lived in. Instead she suggested making donations of hay or fencing to address immediate needs for ranching families.

All three said cash donations are the most helpful, as they can be used for the specific needs of people living in different portions of the affected area.

How you can help

 

Central Montanans wishing to help those affected by the Lodgepole Complex Fire can donate at the following locations. Please note this is not a complete list, but the options listed will allow donations to be channeled to where they are most needed.

 

Stockman Bank will match all contributions up to $10,000.

Donations can be made at the Stockman Bank in Lewistown, 1716 West Main Street. Checks can be made out to: Garfield County Fire Foundation.

 

The Central Montana Foundation has set up an account that goes directly to the Garfield County Bank, for the Fire Foundation.

Please make checks to the Central Montana Foundation, with a memo line of Garfield County Fire. Checks can be mailed to Central Montana Foundation, P.O. Box 334, Lewistown Montana, 59457.

For credit card donations, call 406-538-6130 or go to www.centralmontanafoundation.com and click on the link at the top of the home page for credit card, debit card or electronic transfer options.

 

Pizza Hut in Lewistown, 1640 West Main Street, has set aside Aug.10 from the hours of 5-9 p.m. to assist fire victims. During those hours they will donate a portion of their proceeds. There is also a donation jar at the checkout counter.

 

Jordan VFW is coordinating donations of food and other items. Please call before donating to ensure your items is needed -- (406) 557-2866.

 

• Lori Murnion of Jordan is coordinating fencing and livestock feed (not hay) donations. Please call first to schedule unloading – (406) 977-2334.

 

Garfield County Bank in Jordan is accepting donations for fire victims and for the rural firefighters. To donate to rural firefighters, make checks out to: Garfield County Treasurer, and mail them to PO Box 8, Jordan, MT 59337. In the memo line, specify the donation is for rural volunteer fire companies.

To donate to victims, make checks out to: Garfield County Fire Foundation and mail to: Garfield County Bank, PO Box 6, Jordan, MT 59337. Write Garfield County Fire in the memo line (this is the same account that donations made through the Central Montana Foundation will go into).

 

 

 

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