A trash fire in a burn barrel east of Huntley grew out of control Friday afternoon, leading the man who law enforcement believe started the fire to try and move a nearby car, which in turn started a grass fire.
The two fires converged on the vehicle while the man was still inside it, leaving him with burns that required hospitalization, according to Lt. Dan Paris with the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office.
Located at Sixth Street South near Highway 312 East, the fires began at about 3:45 p.m. and spread, destroying at least three nearby structures and damaging at least two cars.
The man, estimated to be in his 60s, is expected to survive, but Paris said he was unsure of the degree to which the man was burned. A HELP Flight helicopter arrived near the fire and took the man to a nearby hospital.
A quick response and help from a nearby farmer were “huge” in restricting the spread of the fire, Worden Volunteer Fire Chief Lance Taylor said.
It took firefighters about five minutes to arrive after a nearby Worden volunteer firefighter in a private vehicle spotted the burning car and tried to help the man get out, Taylor said. He estimated that 15 minutes passed from the time the car fire started to the time the third structure began burning.
Spreading south and southwest from the car through chest-high grass, the fire burned through about 50 feet of grass to the first building. It burned about 40 more feet to the next building and then burned about another 40 feet before the third building caught.
Firefighters arrived to find the first two buildings engulfed in flames and flames spreading on the third structure.
“People that don’t take heed and keep the grass around their outbuildings down low …” Taylor said. “You’re not going to save a building that’s got this kind of grass wrapped around it.”
Unable to stop the structures from burning down, Taylor said firefighters quickly prioritized halting the spread of the grass fire created by the blaze. Other structures and farm properties were visible nearby, some only feet away from the site of the fire.
Asked what other structures were at risk, Taylor gestured with his arm around the area.
“Everything you’re looking at,” he said.
A key part of the containment effort was a nearby farmer with a disc attached to a tractor. He was quick to arrive at the fire and helped contain it by cutting through grass and digging lines around the burn area to deprive the fire of fuels to spread into. In all, about three acres of land burned, Taylor said.
He described the burned structures as old houses. Paris described the structures as two older buildings that appeared in the process of being repaired and another was a shed converted into a living space. That shed was occupied when the fires began, according to Paris.
Speaking at close to 7 p.m., Paris said the fire was contained but that things were still smoldering and firefighters were keeping an eye on the area.
The Worden Volunteer Fire, Shepherd Volunteer Fire Department, Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office, Montana Highway Patrol, Blue Creek Volunteer Fire were among the agencies that responded to the fire.