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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Essex Residents Prepare For Evacuation As Fire Approaches The Town

MTPR reporter Corin Cates-Carney is in Essex. He says the smoke is so thick there that it’s setting off smoke detectors inside some houses.

The fire threatening the Essex area just south of Glacier National Park grew today, and caused the closure of a 7-mile section of U.S. Highway 2 north of Essex, as well as the adjacent BNSF railroad tracks.

But as of right now, no evacuations have been ordered. Yesterday, people in the area were told to start getting ready to leave on very short notice.
Earlier today Corin Cates-Carney spoke to one family as they prepared, in case an evacuation order is issued.

Larry Epstein built his home in Essex in 2000. He and his wife Callie made it their permanent residence in 2010 after they retired.

"Most of us have packed up the things we think are most valuable and have put those in vehicles and trailers and are ready to roll," says Larry Epstein.

A white 12-foot by long trailer sits ready in Epstein’s front yard, ready to hitch to his 4x4 F150 and leave, even though it won’t hold all his family’s possessions.

"Not much, but you don’t want to take too much. My wife’s birthday present. My office materials, our personal finances, art, three inflatable kayaks, my bicycling stuff, family pictures, some firearms, our passports."

About 50 houses and 20 businesses make up the community in Essex. One of these businesses is the historic Izaak Walton Hotel built in the 1930s.

The Epstein’s home is just down the road from the hotel.

Deputy sheriffs stapled yellow pieces of paper outside of homes explaining what needs to happen in an evacuation, a checklist of things to pack, and a contact list of people to call.

"And if we heard sirens on fire apparatuses tonight or any night that was our sign to hook onto the trailer and leave, Epstein explains.

As Epstein drove around the highway pointing out smoke and talking about the likelihood of the fire moving down into Essex his wife was at home getting food ready for a family wedding in Ovando, Montana this weekend.

Because, as his wife Callie explained, under an evacuation order, there isn’t much they can do. Their bags are packed, now they might as well keep on going about their day until they hear the siren ring.

"You can worry all you want but that isn’t going to change anything. It is worrisome; I’ll give you that," Callie Epstein adds. "But you know, as long as we’ve got each other and the pieces that we’ve taking with us, that’s what we really need. You know what it really has done, its gotten me to think that there are things I need to get rid off, because they're just not that important," Epstein says while laughing.

As the Epsteins try to think on the bright side, air tankers fly overhead.

Find more Montana wildfire news here.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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