On Sunday afternoon sometime around 2:00pm, a forest fire erupted near Hamilton, only 10 miles from where I live. In a matter of only a few short hours, the blaze had overcome 500 acres, growing bigger by the minute, and residents of the area were thrown into Stage 2 mandatory evacuations. (Timelapse VIDEO) For some, there was only enough time to grab their pets, maybe a few valuable belongings, open gates for their livestock, and leave their homes behind hoping and praying that by some miracle it would still be standing when they returned.
By this morning, the fire had grown to approximately 3500 acres, and 12 homes confirmed lost, but no report of a final count.
UPDATE: Tuesday morning there has been confirmation of 14 homes destroyed, 1 man passing of a heart attack while evacuating, and 4300+ acres burned/burning. A Type 1 team has arrived and is in command. 741 homes are under Stage 2 evacuations.
Fire Departments and Police Officers from towns stretching as far as 50 miles away reported to the fire, along with the local Search and Rescue team, the Forest Service, Fish Wildlife and Parks, and the Red Cross. Five helicopters and an air tanker arrived to drop water on the inferno. The Ravalli County Fairgrounds opened their gates for people to bring their livestock, the Bitterroot Humane Society stayed open all night to take in pets and pet food donations, the local community college and churches opened their doors for evacuees to land for a place to sleep and eat.
To top it off, every day people from all over the area opened their homes to people in need of a place to stay, offered their property for storage, volunteered to cook, to transport animals, and donated food, water, money, clothing, toys, pet food, blankets, pillows and toiletries. A Facebook group "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" was created, and countless people came together to help organize meals, donation centers, and donations for evacuees and firefighters, and a GoFundMe account was started to raise money for supplies.
Today I am reminded of just how grateful I am to live where I do.
I am overcome with emotion at the incredible outpouring of support that my community has offered. Strangers, friends, and communities miles apart, coming together to do everything they can to help those in need - it hits close to home in so many ways! I was an evacuee once, in this same valley, only a few miles north of this fire, sixteen years ago.
I know what a forest fire hurdling towards your town sounds like, what kind of heat you feel from two miles away, watching trees go up like matchsticks, and seeing the sky go black and sun turn red from the smoke. I know what it's like to stand in your house and have to choose what's most important to you and what you have to leave behind... to be displaced from your home, to receive donations, to worry about a loved ones that were fighting to save your home and so many others.
I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of so much love from complete strangers, and am proud to be a part of helping those that helped me and my family all those years ago... and I want to say thank you. Thank you to this community for your love and generosity 16 years ago, and thank you for coming together in the same way today. The donations, the open arms, the prayers and support from - it matters. It makes a difference. The folks that are worrying for their homes and livestock, that left with the clothes on their backs and what they could fit in their car - they thank you too.
Keep praying. Keep supporting. Let's never lose this sense of community and love!