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'Just pray and hope': Pryor Road homeowner grateful to avoid disaster from fire

Pryor Road fire on day two
Posted at 5:42 PM, Aug 30, 2023

PRYOR — On Tuesday, flames surrounded homes on Pryor Road, closing in quickly. Luckily, a rapid response from multiple agencies coupled with a change in wind saved those homes, leaving residents feeling lucky more damage wasn't done.

“We went down with our truck and all the other neighbors kind of showed up with their trucks too to try to help. But the winds just come up, and there’s not much you can do except just pray and hope that it’s not too bad,” said Camey Bertolino, a Pryor Road homeowner, on Wednesday. “We just had our spray trucks, so we went in with the water tanks on the back. We were kind of small until the big guys showed up."

Camey Bertolino
Camey Bertolino

Around 1:20 p.m., a fire erupted in farm fields near Hay Creek on the Crow reservation, just north of Pryor. While a cause has not yet been determined, officials say it is believed to be human-related.

“It’s troubling because of how dry it is. Be careful out there. Don’t plow your fields when it’s hot right now. Wait until the middle of the night or something," Bertolino said. "Just take your time. Don’t throw any cigarettes out. It’s dry."

Originally, officials reported nearly 10,000 acres of land had been burned, but that number was corrected to around 1,000 acres Wednesday morning. Mapping efforts are underway for a more accurate estimate. (Update 7:25 p.m. Fire officials have now updated that number to 2,372 acres following a helicopter flyover, but they noted the size has since grown.)

Fire burning in Pryor
Fire burning in Pryor

Responding agencies were able to save houses and lives while battling one of the area's largest fires this season. That's something for which Bertolino feels grateful.

“I think it’s really patriotic. I think we really have a really good system, you know, when it comes to the people and the volunteers out there that come out and take their time to help an area that they really don’t have a lot of contact with," Bertolino said. "Just the fact that it’s safe, knowing that you’ve got strong individuals out there that are really willing to donate their time and energy to something that happens accidentally.”

Without those heroes, the scene would look much different.

Smoke on day two of the fire
Smoke on day two of the fire

But not everything was left unscathed.

“My heart goes out to (the neighbors), because you know they lost all their winter pasture, I think. Their fences are just going to be shot. It’s going to be hard on them," Bertolino said. "They’re going to have a hard time. I mean, they’re very resilient people and they’re tough, but it’s still one of those things where I feel for them.”

Firefighters continued to battle the blaze Wednesday as it headed east into less inhabited ranchlands, leaving behind a trail of ashes and indebted homeowners.

To learn more about the fire, click here.