As the wicked wildland fire season continues across the western U.S., the residents of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeastern Montana are slowly, cautiously starting to rebuild.
Some of living in FEMA trailers, others off the generosity of neighbors after an early season wildfire ripped through the area in June, destroying dozens of homes and countless acres of farmland.
Billings Gazette reporter Susan Olp spent some time with families who lost everything in the Ash Creek fire as they readjust to life after the flames.
ASHLAND — On the 20-mile drive between Lame Deer and Ashland, vivid, green blades of grass poke through charred ground.
At the end of that drive, a white trailer sits on a lot where on June 26 the Ash Creek fire destroyed one family’s home and all of their belongings. The crumpled frame of that house sits behind its replacement.
Both stand as symbols of resilience in the face of loss, and both also show the lingering effects of such a devastating event.
In June, the nearly 325,000-acre Ash Creek fire destroyed 19 homes on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. The 171,444-acre Rosebud complex burned another two houses and two outbuildings; both of those houses are off the reservation.
That toll doesn’t include the livestock destroyed in the rapidly moving fires or the rangeland scorched by the blazes.
The focus of the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Housing Authority has been to care for the families who survived the fire with not much more than the clothes on their backs.
Of the 19 houses, 11 were primary residences, and the others are called summer homes because they are not for everyday use. Only three were insured.
All of the homeless fire victims are at least in short-term housing, said Lafe Haugen, executive director of the tribal agency.
“Every single family that lost everything, including their homes, has been temporarily relocated to a unit that is under the care of the Housing Authority,” Haugen said.
Read the rest of the story.