Posted: Jun 29, 2012 2:30 PM by Angela Douglas - Q2 News
Updated: Jul 2, 2012 8:38 AM
UPDATE: ROUNDUP - Musselshell County residents previously evacuated because of the Dahl Fire may now return to their properties under a 'voluntary evacuation order.' Residents must be ready to leave within a one hour notice.
Residents are encouraged to be aware and alert and to evacuate again if necessary, according to a press release from fire officials.
The Dahl Fire remains active. Sunday's weather is forecasted to be gusty, which could change the fire's behavior quickly.
Highway 87 is open to through traffic only at 35 miles per hour maximum speed. Drivers should not pull off the road or stop.
To learn more about the fire, check Inciweb or follow @DAHLFIRE on Twitter.
MUSSELSHELL COUNTY - In less than 72 hours, the Dahl Fire has burned 70 homes and 20,000 acres in the Bull Mountains area.
The fire is 25-percent contained and has forced as many as 150 evacuation orders.
"We still have a lot of structures at risk," explained Musselshell County Disaster and Emergency Services Director Jeff Gates. "That's why we're not allowing the public in. We're still fighting active fire on all fronts."
The wind-driven fire demonstrated erratic behavior early on, making it difficult to battle.
"At one time we had 200-300 foot flame length coming off the trees," said Gates, who has been on the front lines since the fire sparked Tuesday afternoon.
The fire has taken most of the vegetation, causing Gates to refer to some of the scorched areas as a lunar-like landscape.
"It's all gray and ash," he said. "There's nothing on it in some places."
The community of Musselshell County is no stranger to natural disasters. In fact, last year's massive flooding is anything but a distant memory.
"It's emotionally draining. We lost homes in the flood. We lost some homes in the fire," admitted Gates. "It breaks my heart."
"We're going to have a lot of people with a lot of very expensive needs. We've got fence down for miles," Gates explained. "When you have a fire of this size, it's incredible how much devastation there is."
Many of those people turned out for a community meeting Thursday afternoon. Some residents expressed concerns about management shifting from local to federal control, but the fire managers assured them they were all on the same team and safety is the number one priority.
"We care about you and we can't replace you," Musselshell County Sheriff Wood Weitzel told the crowd Thursday.
Dozens of people are displaced and that includes the DES Director himself. Gates' property along with his mother's has been burned by the flames; he also lost some horses.
"It's going to take me years to fix what I've lost," Gates admitted. "But I'll do my best to help the community and I'll work on mine last."
The fire crews are slowly getting a grip on the blaze, but it will take years to recover from the Dahl Fire.
"It'll be hundreds of years before it looks the same behind my property as it did on Sunday," said Gates.
On Friday firefighters on the Dahl Fire will be working to continue line construction on the north side of the fire and anchor the west side of the fire. Areas with pine trees on the south side are also a concern until a line is completed. Crews will continue mopping-up east of Highway 87.
The portion of Highway 87 between Roundup and Billings Highway 87 is now open to traffic. However, the speed limit is 35 MPH through the fire area.