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Ranchers work with firefighters to extinguish fire south of Big Timber

Photo from Allie Powell of the fire
Posted at 6:45 PM, Nov 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-29 11:10:57-05

MCLEOD — On Monday along the East Boulder, around 30 minutes south of Big Timber, a large fire broke out, threatening homes and ranch lands.

But this isn’t a story of tragedy, it’s one of a community coming together in terrifying times.

“It’s just a tight-knit community, and you kind of got to take care of each other,” said Cameron Powell, an East Boulder resident, on Tuesday.

Cameron Powell
Cameron Powell

Living way out of town comes with its perks.

“I like the seclusion," Powell said. "Just kind of being away from everything, away from everybody. Having your own little slice of Heaven."

But when an emergency occurs, it can become terrifying.

Photo from Allie Powell of the fire
Photo from Allie Powell of the fire

“Well you know, it’s pretty nerve-wracking at first," Powell said. "Especially when you know, your neighbors, your friends, people you’re with every day. They’ve got livestock in the area, they have houses, homes, outbuildings, everything. So everybody kind of has to pull together and try and get tabs on things quick."

On Monday evening, a fire broke out along the East Boulder. MTN News reached out to the Big Timber and McLeod fire departments for more information but has not yet heard back.

Cameron Powell, his wife Allie, and their three children live just down the mountain from where the fire was sparked.

"This isn’t the first fire we’ve had up here since we lived here. Two springs ago, we had one on the Lionhead, and then just this year we had one just a little bit further up Green Mountain. A lightning strike hit during the summer," Powell said. "So (the kids) kind of know, but they made sure they had shoes by their bed, change of clothes ready in case we had to leave in a hurry. But otherwise, they keep it pretty composed, they’re used to it."

Allie and one of her cats
Allie and one of her cats

Cameron's wife, Allie, watched the fire burn from her laundry room window while Cameron made his way home.

“I was actually coming home when I saw it. Just past the 13 Mile Bridge, you can see up the canyon really well, and it looked like the whole Green Mountain was on fire. Kind of hit the panic button. Stepped on the gas a little harder," Powell said. "My wife Allie, she’d already started calling neighbors, figuring out where everybody was. Making sure who was out of town, who was in town, where livestock was. Just making sure that we had accounted for everybody, all our pieces of the puzzle. And then checking in with everybody else, making sure they had their pieces of the puzzle together."

Firefighters from the McLeod, Big Timber, Stillwater, and Park County fire departments showed up to fight that fire and were joined by local ranchers.

"You’ve got the fire department and stuff and I definitely want to thank those guys. But there were a lot of guys, ranchers, they were on the show before even anybody else could respond. They had to open gates and start checking cows and stuff too, so it’s really a group effort,” Powell said. “Water tanks, tractors, I mean I know some different ranches have their own firefighting get-ups on quads and stuff. Whatever it takes, you know, nobody wants to watch something burn. Especially these families that have been in the area for years and years. They don’t want to watch everything they worked so hard for go up in flames."

The Powells live on the Engel Ranch, which is home to a multi-generation ranching family.

“I believe Keith’s been here since the mid-40s if I’m not mistaken," Powell said. "Even before that, they’re multi-generational Montana ranchers. They’ve been here, between this place and all throughout the state for years and years."

Cameron and Allie assist with the ranching tasks. Cameron also owns his own electric company.

"I own Sweet Grass Electric, we’re based out of Big Timber, Montana here. We do residential/commercial. I’m a master electrician. We’re just trying to grow it and hopefully, we can serve everybody in south-central Montana,” Powell said. “We enjoy what we do and we enjoy helping people out."

Residents said this is a strange time for a fire to break out just a few days away from December.

"We were very surprised. Although a lot of times when the wind picks up, we do hear about fire, there might be a fire in the area," said Bill Rambow, an East Boulder resident, on Tuesday. "So when they were talking on the news last night about the fires and then the wind, I’m like okay, that’s a possibility."

Bernadette Rambow (left) and Bill Rambow (right)
Bernadette Rambow (left) and Bill Rambow (right)

Thankfully with the help of numerous agencies and residents, tragedy was avoided.

“Without everybody involved, I don’t know how bad it could have gotten last night,” Powell said.

Neighbors supporting neighbors, not giving a second thought to jumping straight into a fire to help.

To learn more about the fire, click here.

“It’s great knowing that we have a community behind us," Powell said. "And that’s something I think maybe a lot of other communities don’t understand."