Fire burning in Gibson Flats area

(Photo courtesy Jeremiah Johnson)

Updated 4:35 a.m. Dec. 1

Multiple agencies are responding to an active wildland fire burning in the Gibson Flats area.

Emergency crews are asking people to stay away from the area and the intersection of 26th Street South and 33rd Avenue South, according to Great Falls Fire Rescue.

As of 1 p.m., 11 homes, seven garages and 11 outbuildings were confirmed loses, according to GFFR Chief Jeremy Jones.

The Cascade County Sheriff’s Office said about 70 firefighters were working the fire this morning.

Jones said that it was a 3-alarm fire, meaning all GFFR firefighters were called back and every apparatus owned by GFFR was staffed today, including reserve fire engines, the water tender and brush truck. GFFR assisted with the Gibson Flats fire and backfilled to cover the city’s four fire districts.

Jones said that Sand Coulee was the first on scene and when GFFR was called in, a battalion chief and two engines headed to the fire. He said that as they approached the scene, they could see the fire and the BC called in more engines.

By the afternoon, Jones said the fire was largely contained, but firefighters were watching areas of wood piles, tires and other debris that were still burning as higher wind gusts were expected in the afternoon and any embers that spread could cause the fire to spread again.

The city and county opened the Emergency Operations Center and the American Red Cross and Salvation
Army were notified.

A high wind warning was issued on Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 and there were concerns about increased fire danger.

According to the National Weather Service station in Great Falls, Great Falls broke the record temperature for the day at 67 degrees at 2 p.m. The record was 60 degrees in 1985.

Montana Red Cross and the Salvation Army opened an evacuation center at Great Falls Central Catholic High School, 2800 18th Ave. S. Residents can also request Red Cross Services by calling 800-272-6668.

Those impacted can also call the Salvation Army at 453-0391.

According to the Montana Red Cross, 30 households checked in at the evacuation center this morning.

Fifty homes have been impacted, according to GFFR.

In a 10:30 a.m. update from GFFR, “emergency crews are in the process of assessing the number of structures impacted. Assessments are limited at this time due to ongoing fire conditions. No injuries have been reported. Gas has been shut off in the affected area. Crews are working on putting out fire pockets before the wind picks up again.”

Displaced families that have not yet checked in are asked to contact the Red Cross at 1-800-272-6668 to be accounted for, according to GFFR. The Red Cross and CCSO are attempting to account for everyone in the affected area.

The first 911 call for the fire came in at 2:41 a.m., according to CCSO.

The area falls under the Sand Coulee Volunteer Fire Dept. but responders are operating under a unified command with multiple departments are working together, according to GFFR.

CCSO said that numerous evacuations have taken place and other pre-evacuation orders have been given.

During an afternoon press conference, Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said that deputies told residents to evacuate and some evacuated on their own. He said that when they give evacuation orders, residents don’t have to heed the warning, but that responders won’t be back to help.

Jones and Slaughter said fire investigators and deputies were looking for the cause of the fire and had an identified an area they believed might be the where it started in a field, but said it was too early to speculate on the cause.

There’s no information yet from officials on the acreage size of the fire or number of structures impacted, but “numerous structures have been destroyed at this time, and to the best of our knowledge, no loss of life or serious injury has occurred thus far,” according to CCSO in an early morning release.

The agencies involved, according to CCSO are: Sand Coulee, Vaughn, Gore Hill, Black Eagle and Belt Rural volunteer fire departments; GFFR, CCSO, Great Falls Police Department, Malmstrom Air Force Base fire department, Northwestern Energy and Sally One.