MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. --
Malmstrom Air Force Base fire department responded off base to a grass fire headed toward a launch facility and missile alert facility on Feb. 1, 2020.
The fire department was dispatched at the request of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation with a volunteer fire department to support a fast-moving grass fire north of Geyser, Montana.
MAFB responded with Brush 20, a lifted fire engine made to protect structures in off-road conditions; a Water Tender-12, which carries up to 4K gallons of water; and a four-wheel-drive pickup used as a safety officer and over watch.
Upon arrival to Geyser, located 45 minutes south-east of Malmstrom, crews ran into brown-out conditions along the road due to a dust storm formed from 60 mph winds with gusts exceeding 80 mph.
MAFB Emergency Communication Center received news that a LF was in the path of a fast-moving fire.
The on duty assistant fire chief recalled off-duty military firefighters to deploy, as it became clear that U.S. Air Force resources were at risk.
The initial wave of MAFB firefighters arrived at the makeshift staging area north of Geyser, meeting with local volunteer firefighter leadership who tasked MAFB to control the areas, north-east section – which included the LF at risk.
MAFB crews established a safety zone around the LF and coordinated response plans with the Security Forces patrol in the area.
It was decided that the main road between the LF and Geyser would be used as a benchmark for further preparations at the MAF.
Additional firefighters arrived with a small firefighting tank in the back of a four-wheel-drive pickup, joining crews who were already working the fire threatening ranch structures.
Wind conditions were changing rapidly, resulting in a change in the direction of the fire from the MAF to the LF.
As crews stabilized the fire line near the ranch, the fire was creasing on the hilltops making a push toward the main road.
MAFB and volunteer fire department crews repositioned as fire crews on the other front started to focus on an area near the road in an attempt to cut it off.
The fast-moving fire was reported to be traveling as a half-mile-wide, moving wall of fire going over 30 mph.
The fire crossed the road to a nearby grove of trees when the wind shifted in to the fire. This resulted in the six firefighting agencies to work to rapidly extinguish the fire. MAFB crews continued to help clear spot fires and hot spots to ensure the LF and MAF were safe.
In the 90 minutes that the fire was active, it covered over six miles in length and a half-mile in width, burning a total of 4K acres. It traveled over rough terrain and was stopped by crews within a half-mile from the LF and six miles from the MAF.
The six agencies who responded included MAFB and a small wildland task force of five crews made up of twelve firefighters.
No major structures were lost, though some outlined sheds were damaged on a ranch.
The source of the fire was believed to be a power line that fell due to the extreme high winds, which encouraged the rapid growth of the fire.
Malmstrom Fire Department would like to thank the countless volunteer firefighters who contributed to stop the fire and the other wind-related emergencies occurring in the region.