By Kay Braddock
In a blaze that has left a gaping hole in the heart of downtown Miles City, finding a ray of optimism would be an understandably difficult task. But as volunteers recall the actions of individuals, businesses and the mutual aid effort offered by surrounding communities, many find themselves at a loss for words.
“The Red Cross has been wonderful … actually the whole town is wonderful,” Deputy State Fire Marshal Jerry Smith said.
Standing in the middle of a neighboring pet store on Eighth Avenue across the street from the fire ravaged remnants of the Cellar Casino Monday evening, Smith estimated about 65 firefighters, including those from surrounding communities of Terry, Forsyth and Glendive, were on hand to help fight the blaze that destroyed historic buildings housing ten businesses.
“Cooperation is excellent,” Smith said of the agencies working together. He noted having firefighters from other communities work through Monday night allowed many Miles City firemen a much-needed reprieve from the day’s exhaustive firefighting efforts.
Smith estimated about 12 to 14 firemen stayed through the Monday night shift - four of those were from Terry.
Owners of the Eighth Street Pet Shop offered their location to serve as a hub for firefighters, where various businesses and individuals dropped off food and drinks. The mud-streaked floor, abundance of chairs and beverage filled coolers, along with trays of food and needed supplies displayed the business’s temporary mission.
Nancy Okerman, who endured a recent fire of her own on their family ranch, was among those handing out food and supplies to firefighters. Seeing people stopping by to offer vegetable trays and other food and drink items was inspiring, she said, noting she saw the same demonstration of kindness exhibited when portions of their ranch were under fire.
Six of Terry’s volunteer firemen responded to the mutual aid call received from the Miles City Fire Department early Monday morning, according to Terry Fire Chief Dwight Tague, who also responded. The others included: Tim Krebsbach, Jason Smith, Mike Johnson, Dan Kirkpatrick and John Pisk.
Tessa Shumway, who leads the area’s Red Cross efforts, helped set up meals and supplies for firefighters and residents displaced by the fire. About a dozen people were living in apartments in buildings affected.
“It was just amazing how that whole community came together,” Shumway said. “It was neat to see that.”
Tague recalled there have only been two other fires that either Terry or Miles City have needed to ask for mutual aid assistance in recent years. In 1989 Miles City called for mutual aid assistance with the fire that burned the Coast-to-Coast building and in 1995 Terry called for help with the fire that damaged the old Prairie County Courthouse.