ENTERPRISE EDITORIAL: Thank a firefighter for O’Rea/Fleshman Creek response

The voice of a 911 dispatcher alerted emergency responders Saturday of a red flag warning, meaning conditions were ripe that day for a wildfire sparked by dry lightning.

Some of us looked up to the darkening sky after the alert was issued, hoping the warning wouldn’t materialize.

Unfortunately, it did.

At about 2:30 p.m. that day, a lightning strike caused a wildfire northwest of Livingston between O’Rea Creek and Fleshman Creek.

Dispatch received multiple calls from people who noticed smoke rising from the hills in that area, and Park County Rural Fire District No. 1 Chief Dann Babcox raced to the scene and began working to identify the exact location of the blaze and the direction of its movement.

Babcox sized up the fire, the terrain and windy conditions that were present that day and wasted no time calling for mutual aid. Not just mutual aid, but also air support that came in the form of a Air National Guard Black Hawk chopper and two Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation helicopters.

“When I saw the terrain and the fuels involved, I knew I was going to need air support,” Babcox told The Livingston Enterprise in a Monday morning interview. “... It was moving pretty good.”

Following Babcox’s aid request, a slurry bomber, helicopter water drops, smoke jumpers and ground crews worked to stop the fire’s spread. And soon after, Park County put its somewhat new mass notification system, known as Nixle, to work and notified residents of the fire.

By 8 p.m. Saturday, Park County notified residents that the wildlife fire was under control, that a potential evacuation warning was lifted and that crews would monitor the area through the night.

When you consider the persistent dry conditions that are gripping the area — which are under Stage 1 fire restrictions — the outcome could have been much worse. When all was said and done, the fire had burned just 102 acres. No homes were damaged by the fire, nor were any injuries reported. Park County Disaster and Emergency Services Director Greg Coleman was right on mark when he praised the response in the Monday article that appeared on the front page of this newspaper.

“It was a great response and we were very fortunate to be able to catch it,” Coleman said.

Kudos to Babcox and the crews with Park County Rural Fire and the Livingston Fire Department for their efforts — along with the other mutual aid responders — to quickly bring the O’Rea/Fleshman Creek fire under control and protect property in the area.

City and county firefighters should be proud of another job well done, and know that Park County values your work. 

With rain and temperatures predicted to drop in the coming days, we can only hope another wildland fire season will soon be behind us.

— Justin Post
Enterprise Managing Editor