Experiencing Mother Nature Firsthand.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever expected to have experienced the fierceness of Mother Nature’s forest fire firsthand, but in August of 2000, my family, friends and neighbors gathered as a force to help protect each others property, cattle, equipment, buildings and houses. We won some battles and lost others.
On August 15, 2000 fire officials began working to suppress a small wildfire in the Six Mile area southeast of Townsend about 15 miles. The fire was about 15 acres in size started from an overheated bearing on a neighbor’s combine. The southerly edge of our ranch was less than a mile from the fire started in a wheat field.
This fire would become know as the Maudlow-Toston fire. It raged for many days engulfing some 80,000 acres between August 15 and September 30 before it burned out. The summers hot temperatures were in the 90’s with winds of 10 to 15 miles per hour. It raced across drought-stricken ranchland and into forested areas. That include 70,000 acres of private ranch land and 11,000 acres of National Forest land near Townsend..
Our ranch was in the clear for the first 4 days until the wind switched from the North to the Southwest. When the wind switched in its path: our wheat crop worth over $100,000, all of our cattle summer range, fences and some outbuildings were in harms way. Fortunately, our home was not in the path of this fire.
Realizing that the wind had switched, we had to move all of our cattle from their summer pasture. The fire came so quickly that it burned the 500- acre wheat crop in a matter of a minutes. Just prior to the wheat being engulfed in flames, we started to gather the cattle from the highest mountain pasture moving them to our lower-lying pasture. Many miles of fences, boundary and internal, as well as all of our summer pasture were completely lost. Another loss was a mile of powerline poles which supplied power for our cattle-watering systems.
Late in the afternoon on the fourth day of the fire it became very evident that we going to lose a lot of land to the fire. Starting about 10:00 pm we began trailing our black cattle to our corrals a distance of four miles with the help of friends and neighbors, This process was all happening in total darkness with the fire right behind us all the way. We had people walking in the dark moving cattle forward only by sound.
As the fire crested the ridge about one-half mile south of our corrals, a neighbor brought his tractor and disk to our corrals to till some soil on the outside of the corrals to prevent the fire from burning our corrals and cattle at this point. Another neighbor showed up with a semi to move our cattle completely out of harms way to a feedlot area. We later hauled the livestock to Meagher county for the reminder of the summer grazing season.
While people were loading the semi, several of us returned to the roundup site to find eight pairs lying within 100 yards of the fire. Several of us on foot gathered the cattle and started down the county road. As we were moving the cattle, juniper trees with branches hanging over the road burst into flames. We would get the cattle running before we approached the trees forcing them by the danger.
Only by the grace of God and all the help from our family, friends and neighbors, we were able to save all our cattle.