Mendenhall’s malice

Fire along West Boulder Road requires state, local resources to extinguish  

McLEOD — For those who have ever been camping, even a few times, they know the smell all too well. 

Maybe it traces back to the high school days of bonfires and staying out late. Or maybe weekend campouts with the Boy Scouts or the family. That crispy smell that makes you both quizzical to why you enjoy it, but sometimes cautious if it’s coming from an unfamiliar place.

For those living along the West Boulder Road, the past week has flooded their nostrils with what can only now be an infamous smell of smoke. 

On Aug. 26, an afternoon like the 25 others which preceded it, filtered through the eyes, ears and noses of those in western Sweet Grass County. But at 1:10 p.m., a call came in to the Big Timber Volunteer Fire Department, reporting a fire along Mendenhall Creek, just off West Boulder Road.

“I came into the house and I thought, ‘Either Laurie’s barbecuing, or there’s a fire,’” said Tom McGuane, who lost land in the Mendenhall Fire last week. “So, I walked in the house, and she wasn’t barbecuing. And then somebody came down the driveway and said there were a bunch of fires coming down the ridge here. That’s when we knew we were in an event.”

What ensued would be dubbed the Mendenhall Fire, what was thought to initially have burnt up nearly 1,800 acres of land, but in reality, torched 1,275 acres. The fire stared near the county line between Park and Sweet Grass County, and moved east toward and along West Boulder Road. 

PHOTO GALLERY: Take a look at inside the Mendenhall Fire's footprint and the destruction left behind.

McGuane said there were times at night, during the weekend, people were standing across the creek that runs just along West Boulder Road, trying to put out small embers that were jumping across into their yards. That’s just how close to home the Mendenhall Fire was to their own backdoors. 

Around 6 p.m. on Aug. 26, the Montana Department of Natural Resources County Assist Team (DNRC CAT) came in from Helena – they were working on the Holmes Gulch Fire prior to the Mendenhall Fire – and took control of the operation. By Monday morning, crews fighting the fire began to find containment along the ‘footprint’ of the fire – just five percent. 

For more of this story, pick up a copy of this week’s Big Timber Pioneer on newsstands now, or subscribe online at

PHOTO CAPTION: A firefighter walks back to his truck Aug. 29, after working with a crew to monitor the Division Lima zone of the Mendenhall Fire along West Boulder Road. The fire’s ‘footprint’ was divided up into four zones: Alpha, Charlie, Lima and Zebra to help manage control and planning of the fire. (STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSFELD / Big Timber Pioneer)




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