Keith McNally credits fire mitigation efforts he has made over the past several years, along with efforts from fire personnel, with saving his home during the Pine Crest wildfire.
McNally was at work in Billings when the fire started and had to drive through the wind and smoke that drifted all the way to Billings to make it home. When he arrived home his wife was bringing their horses out and he went up to their home to get more animals and another vehicle. The flames were rolling at the edge of his horse pasture by the time he reached the house.
McNally has lived in the Pine Crest subdivision for 12 years. Everybody likes the landscape, he said, but you try to keep stuff away from structures. You have got to keep it away from your house, he said.
He has had a bunch of trees taken out and keeps the grass mowed around the property. The horses also do a good job of keeping the pasture grazed.
You are really asking for trouble if you don’t take precautions, McNally said.
You know there is always a chance, he said, but they have tried to prepare. The McNally’s had a fire escape route that was planned by their son several years ago when he was in 8th or 9th grade.
McNally said he is really grateful for the firefighters who cut a fire break across his pasture to stop the fire from advancing further. The fire burned to the edge of the horse pasture destroying much of the fencing. McNally is now working on repairing the fence so he can bring the horses back.
People realize that you can’t control the elements, McNally said.
McNally said his family was evacuated for two nights, but has been back at their home since Monday afternoon. They were told at first that they would lose their barn, but that firefighters were trying to save the house. It was Saturday night before they learned that the house would survive the fire.
McNally was elated when he was able to return and saw the house and barn. It was so much better than we thought, he said.
It is absolutely imperative that people take the chance ahead of an event to do fuel mitigation, Columbus Fire Rescue Chief Rich Cowger said.
Fuel mitigation is the personal responsibility of homeowners, Cowger said. There is not a fire department in the state that can handle wildfires without the help of homeowners, he said.
Residents need to stay prepared year-round, Cowger said. A wildfire can burn at any point in time when there is not snow on the ground, he said.
Cowger said it is also important for residents in fire prone areas to anticipate evacuations and have items prepared to leave their house for several days.
The Ready, Set, Go! Program managed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs encourages residents in fire prone areas to be prepared. The program emphasizes three components of wildfire preparedness summarized as Ready, Set, and Go.
Ready: Be ready and prepared before the threat of a wildland fire becomes an emergency situation. Recognize that you live in a fire prone area, Cowger said.
Set: Be aware of the situation, pack your emergency items, and know how to obtain information from local media or emergency departments. Notice situations like red flag warnings, Cowger said.
Go: Act early and follow a prepared wildfire action plan. Be ready to go on your own without waiting for evacuation orders, Cowger said. It is much better to evacuate so that firefighters can get in there and do their job without worrying about needing to conduct a rescue operation, he said.
More information about the Ready, Set, Go! Program is available online at wildlandfiresg.org/Resident.
Cowger also addressed Pine Creek residents at a Monday morning public information meeting.
“This is March,” Cowger said. “This is a long fire season...talking about being prepared, you guys are living it.”
“This could be repeated again” if dry conditions don’t change, Cowger said.