Eastern Montana’s Unforgettable Inferno – 24 Years Since the 1999 Wildfires
Today marks a somber milestone – the 24-year anniversary of the devastating wildfires that wreaked havoc across parts of Montana and North Dakota. The Weather Service in Glasgow had a Facebook post on the tragic event a while back. The fall of 1999 unfolded as a season marked by warmth and aridity, setting the stage for an extended period of destructive wildfires. Among the various fires that ignited that fateful day, those that sparked near Wolf Point, Outlook, and Sidney would etch themselves into the memories of us all.
The Weather Service in Glasgow remembered the event on their Facebook page. It was fueled by strong winds gusting at a formidable 60 mph, which followed a cold frontal passage, the fires near these towns rapidly spread, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Wolf Point and Poplar bore the brunt of an 18-square-mile blaze. The fire necessitated the evacuation of one resident and brought about the ruin of 9 homes, a UPS distribution center, a law enforcement vehicle, 18 barns and out-buildings, including a garage sheltering several vintage cars, a motor home, and a 35-ft boat. Property losses from this inferno were estimated at a staggering $5 million.
The outlook for the town of Outlook was similarly grim as a relentless wall of flames approached, prompting the evacuation of its residents. An expanse of approximately 18 square miles in the vicinity succumbed to the raging fire, consuming at least 19 structures, including several homes, grain elevators, and the local gas station. The property losses for this fire amounted to an estimated $6 million.
To this day, these two harrowing events hold the distinction of being the wildfires with the highest recorded property losses in the history of northeast Montana.
Meanwhile, near Sidney, North Dakota, the wildfire traversed a staggering 70,000 acres within the Little Missouri National Grasslands. Its tumultuous path to full containment spanned nearly two weeks, leaving a prominent burn scar visible on satellite imagery for weeks afterward. This devastating blaze additionally ignited around 30 exposed coal seams, sustaining fires that raged for years following the initial event.
The 24-year mark serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring impact of these wildfires on the affected communities and the enduring need for vigilance in the face of such natural disasters.
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Gallery Credit: Mary K