Rural Montanans have banded together to try to try tame drought fueled fires that are burning within their communities.

“In our community there is a lot of farming and ranching, but we do have a little bit of a population that works in town and just lives out here. They’re so appreciative of having the fire department out here and they’re so happy to contribute in any way they can,” said Christy Hammond-Gerdes.

Many ranchers have lost an extremely valuable resource due to the fires, hay and forage. (Photo contributed by  Christy Hammond-Gerdes)
Many ranchers have lost an extremely valuable resource due to the fires, hay and forage. (Photo contributed by Christy Hammond-Gerdes)
Hammond-Gerdes is a fifth-generation rancher who ranches with her husband and raises a sixth-generation of agriculturalists. They live between Billings and Hardin, Montana. She and her husband serve on the volunteer fire department, where she also wears the hat of treasurer and has many other responsibilities. The volunteer fire department was started in the 1980s by Hammond-Gerdes’ grandfather.

Being involved in the agriculture industry and knowing the hardships that ranchers are going through due to the drought, Hammond-Gerdes is seeing the disappointment first-hand. She has seen an abundance of forage and hay combust into flames this summer, a devastating blow to ranching operations.

“With hay prices what they are, that is so devastating. It makes you sick. I don’t know how they’re going to replace it. There is no hay,” Hammond-Gerdes said.

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Hammond-Gerdes’ sister-in-law, Corrine Hammond, volunteers her time on the local fire department as well. She said the dry conditions have made it quite the summer season to fight fires. She ranches with her husband as well.

“Flames move fast through grassland in general, but with it being so dry the fires have been moving even faster,” she said.

For Hammond, having a fire department in the community is essential to beating these fires. It allows rapid response time, instead of waiting for a fire department from another area to make the trek to their acres.

“We are able to see the first puff of smoke, and we are able to get to it before it gets large,” Hammond said.

Surprisingly, the fire season in general has not been bad in their part of rural Montana, according to Hammond-Gerdes. However, due to the dry conditions, it allows the fires to move much quicker than normal and allows them to sustain and be active for a much longer period of time.

The volunteer fire department is able to get to fires within the community much faster than an outside source could. (Photo contributed by  Christy Hammond-Gerdes)
The volunteer fire department is able to get to fires within the community much faster than an outside source could. (Photo contributed by Christy Hammond-Gerdes)
The volunteer fire department is a community operation, requiring all hands on deck and everyone lending a helping hand in a time of need due to the flames.

“There are not a lot of people in our little community that don’t help in some way with it,” Hammond-Gerdes said. “It just really brings out the best in people. It’s really heart warming to get so many phone calls asking if they can help or what they can do.”