LAME DEER, MT— Quick response from firefighters Sunday afternoon slowed a grass fire that burned up to 1700 acres northwest of, and within the Northern Cheyenne tribal headquarters town of Lame Deer. The fire temporarily closed U.S. Highway 212 and Montana Highway 39, which were reopened about 7:30 p.m. Sunday night. At its height, the Cutacross fire threatened many structures including homes in Lame Deer.
The BIA responded to three wildfires Sunday morning. Of undetermined cause, the Cutacross fire began near the Jimtown Cutoff Road about a mile north of US 212. “We almost had it, then the wind picked it up and just pushed,” said BIA Fire Management Officer Adam Wolf.
Driven by 30 mph gusts, fire and smoke came pouring downhill east into Lame Deer. The fire flared in Alderson Creek cattail marshes within the town, and burned right through large concrete culverts underneath US 212 to char 20 acres of creekbottom south of the highway immediately between Lame Deer School and Trading Post. Marshy areas were “the most challenging,” said Wolf.
“We couldn’t get engines in—too muddy. [But] the whole community pulled together and we stopped it,” Wolf said. Varied crews worked together to backburn in two spots, using fire themselves to stop approaching flames.
Resources from across the region joined in efforts to suppress the blaze. The Lame Deer and Ashland volunteer fire departments, Crow Agency BIA, Miles City and Fort Howes BLM, Forsyth County, and Montana DNRC were all on-scene.
The tribal elder care Wendell Shoulderblade Center and Indian Health Service clinic prepared to evacuate due to smoke concerns just before the fire spread was quelled. Homes along Highway 39 just north of downtown Lame Deer were temporarily ordered to evacuate by Incident Commander Mario Pretty Boy, but firefighters contained the grass fire edge near those homes before people evacuated.
A 6 pm briefing coordinated with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and Department of Emergency Services, BIA Superintendent, and Rosebud County Commission and Sheriff. BIA Assistant Fire Management Officer Bobby Cooper is leading the Type 3 team managing the fire. Overnight into Monday, three dozers and a road grader will build line encircling the burn.