GREAT FALLS — As the wind howled in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday morning, power lines could be seen silhouetted by the orange glow of a raging wildland fire in the Gibson Flats area just southeast of Great Falls.
According to the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office, the fire was reported just before 2:45 a.m.
"We just got some phone calls and then the sheriff came and said to evacuate,” said Steve Bolon, who evacuated his home.
Bolon evacuated to Great Falls Central Catholic High School when it was set up as an evacuation center.
"We're up on the hill above everything, so we looked out and saw it down below us. Quite a bit of flames and a lot of smoke,” Bolon explained.
As kids played basketball in the gym to pass the time, American Red Cross and Salvation Army representatives were making sure everyone had food and drinks and a place to sit and rest.
"We'll be working with our partners in the community and the Red Cross especially to make sure we help those affected the best we can,” said Mark King of the Great Falls Salvation Army.
Great Falls Central Catholic High School counselor Deacon Rev. Robert Ferguson says the school is prepared for situations just like this.
"We are part of the disaster preparedness plan in Great Falls for this area. I received a phone call from the sheriff's (office) asking us to open up,” Ferguson said.
He said evacuees he talked to seemed to be doing okay. "Most of the people are taking this pretty well. They're hopeful the fire department will be able to get this out."
As daylight arrived and the wind continued to howl, smoke could be seen blowing across a large swath of burnt grass in a field.
Despite the damage, everyone is thankful for the community response.
"This says everything about our community. This is one of the most giving and generous and supportive communities I've ever been a part of,” King said.
"It's a great community, yeah. They've done a good job,” Bolon said.
As of 10:30 a.m. the scene was still active.
"Numerous structures have been destroyed," according to the Cascade County Sheriff's Office, but there is no word at this point on the exact number.
No loss of life or serious injuries have been reported, and the cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, at least 11 agencies responded to the fire.
Great Falls Fire Rescue shared the following information at 10:32 a.m.
- Emergency crews are in the process of assessing the number of structures impacted.
- Assessments are limited at this time due to ongoing fire conditions.
- No injuries have been reported.
- Gas has been shut off in the affected area.
- Crews are working on putting out fire pockets before the wind picks up again.
- Cascade County Sheriff's Office and American Red Cross are working to account for everyone in the affected area.
We will update you as we get more information, including how you may be able to help the people affected.
Responding agencies include (will be updated if we get more info)
- Vaughn Fire
- Sand Coulee Fire
- Gore Hill Fire
- Belt Rural Fire
- Black Eagle Fire
- Malmstrom AFB
- Great Falls Fire
- Cascade County Sheriff's Office
- Great Falls Police Department
- Northwestern Energy
- Salvation Army (Sally One)