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

Helena Fire Evacuees Had To Leave Quickly

A view of the North Hills Fire on the morning of July 28, 2019.
A view of the North Hills Fire on the morning of July 28, 2019.

There’s a public meeting about the North Hills Fire being held at this hour at the Helena Valley Community Center. That fire, first reported Friday afternoon, quickly blew up to more than 4,000 acres, causing evacuation orders to be issued for an estimated 400 homes.

Among the evacuees is Erin Vang, who left her home Saturday quickly.

"These things can change rapidly, so I wasn't going to waste any time," she said.

"You know, I got to my house, I worked as quickly as I possibly could to get the animals shoved into a carrier and into my car, and I'm a musician: I had to grab my horns, I had to grab my computers, which are my livelihood. And the only extra thing I did was fix my sprinkler system. Get that coupler in place so that my sprinklers could run a few times a day and keep the grounds wet."

Vang, a principal horn player for the Helena Symphony, spoke to MTPR’s Corin Cates-Carney this afternoon over a New England-style IPA at Blackfoot Brewing in Helena. She said she didn’t have much time to get out.

"No. And I didn't even get documents," she said. "I mean, the documents that are in my wallet are the only ones I have. I was concerned about my dog, my four cats and my instruments."

Vang said she and her neighbors were pretty worried Friday night, but then relaxed a little.

"We slept fully clothed, yeah," she said.

The next morning, she headed out to do a few errands.

"Yeah. We were out running errands because it seemed like they'd gotten things under control, and we weren't really reading much in the available news, and so we were carrying on," Vang said. "You know, not entirely comfortably, but you carry on."

A map of the North Hills fire area and associated evacuation zones, current as of the morning of July 29, 2019.
Credit InciWeb
A map of the North Hills fire area and associated evacuation zones, current as of the morning of July 29, 2019.

Vang said evacuees are always hungry for information.

“When you're the person who's evacuated and you think your house might burn down, there's not enough information," she said.

"There will never be enough information, and information isn't what you need. What you need is for it to be over, and information is this illusion that makes you feel a little bit better. Except when it's bad news, and it makes you feel a lot worse.

On the other hand, stepping back and looking at it rationally, it's amazing the information that's available. I mean on Facebook, there's the Lewis and Clark emergency management page and the Lewis and Clark sheriff's page. It's not updated anywhere near often enough, if you're the one who's worried about your house and your friends and the livestock, but it's updated several times a day.”

Vang is staying with friends in Helena while she’s evacuated, and there’s a bit of a silver lining there.

"I'm amazed," she said. "I just moved back to Montana less than two years ago, and before I had even driven away from my place, I had multiple offers of, ‘Do you need a place to stay, I've got room.’ At this point, I've had more offers of housing and meals and company and support than I will be able to take advantage of if this stretches for months.”

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