POLSON — Fire officials gave their first official statement Monday evening on the Boulder 2700 fire that has raged along Highway 35 and Finley Point on Flathead Lake since starting in the early morning hours of Saturday.
Row by row, the Polson High School gymnasium was filled with concern. Residents like Ivette Smiley were there to get some answers after what seemed like a nightmare.
“I seen that fire go down the hill and I knew it was jumping across to the lake. And I knew then that we don't know what's going on because it was like a whirlwind. You could see the flames. I mean the fire, the wind, was just going around in circles. It wasn't just [coming from the] northeast, it was in a circle because it was like in the valley there or something. I don't know I was crazy." - Ivette Smiley
The Boulder 2700 Fire has already damaged at least a dozen structures, burned over 1000 acres, and hindered one community’s sense of security.
“I could see this house and all the fire equipment was by this house. I got close. I could see where the fire was and I was okay then, except when the wind picked up and I guarantee you that house I was looking at isn't here anymore,” Smiley said.
Fire and local officials worked to reassure the crowd at the meeting that they’re doing the best they can considering the circumstances.
“When this blew up. I went to the scene and I worked as fire trucks after fire trucks, after fire trucks from...all over...were all arriving on scene with a little smaller fire department, they might have only four or five, and they show up with there,” Lake County Sheriff Don Bell recalled.
“So, this is a really the community really came together and really worked hard. I spoke in there about heroism I’ve seen,” Sheriff Bell told MTN News. “I know firefighters are brave but that was proof positive. These firefighters that went, they give, they...gave it their all to protect the structures of these folks, and they're to be commended for their, their valiant efforts."
Despite the swarm of firefighters, Mother Nature didn’t let up.
“That is such a fluid fire up there, and the fuels are so, so dense,” Sheriff Bell said. “And then, tomorrow will be a different day and the winds...it'll be drier tomorrow. So that's some of the things that we're worried about.”
Fire officials say it was a combination of sustained winds over 30 mph and hot and dry conditions that made the fire to grow so rapidly. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
During a question-and-answer session following Monday’s meeting, some of the evacuees asked if their homes were even standing.
For some, they’ll find out soon enough. WIth a solid fire line built, some residents will be allowed back into their homes on Tuesday. But Sheriff Bell is asking for patience from the evacuees who aren’t being allowed home yet.
"A lot of people saying ‘well, I'm just a half a mile away.’ Well, you're a half-mile closer to the fire. And so that's what he's worried about,” Sheriff Bell said.
“We're trying to -- the incident command team -- is trying to keep you out of harm's way, as best they can. And that's the line they do for now because they got a pretty good fire line built.”
The firefighting isn’t done, and officials warn residents to stay alert, keep that “go bag” packed up” and be patient as firefighters focus on the task at hand. Once you’ve done all that, evacuee Ivette Smiley has another request.
“I was really upset because I know it's still not over. I know we got a couple of days of rain. And I know it didn't help that much,” Smiley said. “So, I'm just hoping everybody out there that believes in God praise for all of us because the praying really does help.
Evacuations and road closures remain in place and the Boulder 2700 fire has burned about 1,400 acres. Officials are still trying to determine just how many structures were damaged or destroyed over the weekend.
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