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A fire Tuesday morning on a Custer County ranch destroyed a $400,000 hay-cubing machine and may have closed a business, according to the owners. 

Donna and her husband, Les Hirsch, operate Tri-State Alfalfa Cubes on their 9,000-acre ranch about 30 miles southwest of Miles City along the Tongue River.  The cubing machine, which measures about 20-feet wide and more than twice as long, is used to compress feed for cattle, sheep and horses. 

A neighbor who heard an explosion and saw flames alerted the Hirschs to the fire at about 6 a.m., Donna Hirsch said.

Until firefighters arrived, Les Hirsch and a nephew used snow to keep the fire from also engulfing a nearby shed used for storing hay cubes.       

Bill Ellis, board president for the Custer County Rural Volunteer Fire Company, said four engines and nine firefighters dumped about 3,000 gallons of water on the blaze, which was brought under control just after 9 a.m.     

“It’s going to hurt the ag community around here more than anything,” Ellis said. 

The blaze destroyed the cubing machine, damaged the nearby storage shed and caused a propane tank to explode.  Donna Hirsch said the property was insured.   

The Hirschs have operated Tri-State Alfalfa Cubes, which employs five people, since they bought the cubing ma-chine about two years ago. 

Before that, the Hirschs were part owners of Montana Combo Cubes.  In their 60s, the couple has been involved in the hay-cubing business since the early 1990s. 

Donna Hirsch said they may decide not to buy a new cubing machine and shut down Tri-State Alfalfa Cubes.    

“It may be time to change,” she said.  “It’s fine if it’s all in place, but to start all over again.  It’s hard.”  

It is not known how the fire started. 

Contact Kahrin Deines at kdeines@billingsgazette.com or 657-1392.

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