Clarkston fire slurry plane

A plane drops slurry to combat the spreading fire in Clarkston on Monday.

Residents of a rural region in western Gallatin County received an unwelcome surprise when they returned from work Monday and learned that a wildland fire was burning in the area and threatening their homes.

First word of the fire came at 3:30 p.m. Monday when a caller to the county 911 center reported seeing smoke near Clarkston, on the south side of Pole Gulch Road near its intersection with Broken Creek Road. The fire was burning in timber, grass and brush. It grew from about 300 acres, as of early evening Monday, to about 1,500 acres on Tuesday, according to the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department

Officials said the blaze continued burning actively on Tuesday.

Most every fire department in the Gallatin Valley sent rigs and firefighters. The response included trucks and firefighters from the Central Valley Fire Department in Belgrade. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service contributed airplanes, a helicopter and smoke jumpers to the battle.

One Pole Gulch Road resident, who would only give his initials, P.J., to a reporter, said he had just gotten home when sheriff’s deputies told him he would have to leave.

“They came up on the road. They said, get out, get out. I was already home, and I didn’t smell smoke or anything,” he said.

The sheriff’s department said there have been reports of 

structures that were burned, including homes, but a full assessment of damage will not be completed until later. The cause of the fire is under investigation. No evacuation orders are in effect.

On Monday, sheriff’s deputies were checking residences for people who might not have heard about the fire. Residents who registered their phones with the county emergency management system received an automated notification of the fire. (People who haven’t registered their phones can do so at www.readygallatin.com.)

No loss of livestock or pets was reported Monday.

Incident commander Jason Jarret said the fire could have widespread affect. “There are lots of units here, lots of people,” he said.

Watching the blaze from Pole Gulch Road beyond a roadblock into the affected area were property owners Isiah Cooper, his wife, Brittany, and their infant daughter.

Cooper said when he and his wife arrived, they were told they could go to their lot at their own risk. They live in Three Forks and have thought about building a home on the site. All that was there when the fire started was a garage, which Isiah Cooper thought was destroyed.