Flames engulf a group of trees in a field off US Highway 87 East on Thursday, July 20.

BRONTE WITTPENN, Gazette staff

A trailer with a flat tire sparked a fire Wednesday that destroyed about 15 bales of hay in Petroleum County. 

It's the second time in the past month property has been destroyed in the county by a fire sparked by a trailer's flat tire, Petroleum County Sheriff Bill Cassell said.

Between the two fires, Cassell, who also works as a wildland firefighter, said he hopes people haven't grown relaxed when it comes to taking measures to prevent starting grass fires. 

After the region cooled from storms the past week, "Everybody's kind of taken a sigh of relief, and they're hoping fire season is maybe over," Cassell said.

But grass fires still happen along highways in the fall, he said.

"That grass is not any less dry than it was a month ago and that fire danger is still there," he said.

On Aug. 28, a flat tire on a boat trailer (which was being hauled by a pickup also hauling a camper) on Highway 244 shot sparks off the road. The driver didn't know about the flat tire.

A fire sparked, and Fergus Electric Cooperative also lost six power poles. Winnett lost power for about five hours as a result, Cassell said. A landowner also lost "quite a bit" of fencing material near where the fire started, Cassell said. 

Wednesday's fire was reported by a passerby at about 1:30 p.m. With roughly 15 mph winds, it took only a few minutes to burn half a mile of ditch on the northern side of Highway 200 near Petroleum-Garfield county line, Cassell said. 

From there, the fire spread into cottonwood trees near the Musselshell River and also into about 15 bales of hay nearby. The hay, three-year-old grass-alfalfa mix, had recently been moved by the landowner to make room for newer hay on his property.

"Hay is a pretty precious commodity right now," Cassell said. 

Walking out at the sight of the fire yesterday, Cassell said the ground was wet where the fire burned.

"Even though the ground is muddy underneath, (a fire) still will burn the grass on top. It rips through the grass," Cassell said. 

The Lodgepole Complex fire that burned about 270,000 acres of land across Garfield and Petroleum counties in July has left local ranchers with limited options to feed livestock that survived the blaze, and donations of hay have been sent to the fire's victims from across Montana. Cassell estimated that Wednesday's fire was about half a mile southwest of the Lodgepole Complex fire line. 

In Central and Eastern Montana, Stage II fire restrictions are still in effect for Petroleum County, Musselshell County, Yellowstone County, Treasure County, Rosebud County, Carbon County, Sweet Grass County, Stillwater County, Carter County, Judith Basin County, Wheatland County and parts of Choteau County and Blaine County. With the exception of Park County, the remainder of the central and eastern portions of the state are under Stage I fire restrictions


Night Reporter

General assignment reporter for The Billings Gazette.