A story of those who fought it, those who lived through it, and how they are dealing with its aftermath.
September 4th, 2020
“The morning that they had it sort of under control, they had helicopter after helicopter and bombers dropping red stuff.
I just thought maybe there is a chance to escape. Yeah, that’s what I believed.”
Bob, Local Resident
November 4th, 2021
Day 415: October 23rd, 2021
"Friday late afternoon I was there an hour after it started, rapidly went up the face and then the backside, we then realized this is not going to be a short-duration fire. SO much loss happened in the first 24 hours, which is the toughest, you’re trying to get everything together and it's all chaos. The first night I slept 2/1/2 hours in the front seat of my pickup, 3-5:30 am. Rolled right into the next day. It is exhausting, but there is a pace you get into."
"The city of Bozeman itself does not have a lot of woodland potential, there is not a lot of open space, it is mostly developed. What we have had to do more is acknowledge that we have to play a role in the greater good and be able to send qualified people and apparatuses out to help, because the name of the game in woodland is everyone has got to pitch in a little bit for it to work."
"It's just it hits close to home, you’re driving up there and you’re recognizing the names on the mailboxes...I ran into previous firefighters up there that were moving livestock or dealing with it. You know, this is my friend's house, I'd like to go check this house out personally."
September 5th, 2020
Bob and Jo:
Bridger land owners
“The first day of the fire it burned on M Side. It burned up to that, over the top and onto the other side of the M. I came up the next morning and I sat on top of where that group of trees are, just on the other side of those about as far as I could drive. I watched it all morning and it was very still and there was no wind at all. Then at about one o’clock or two o’clock, I do not know I lost track of time, the wind started and started blowing really hard, blowing straight at me. I watched it come over that last ridge and down that side. I got in my truck, drove back down to our cabin, and uh grabbed, I’m an artist, I grabbed paintings, supplies, a couple of propane tanks, things like that. Then went down to Jos's cabin and did the same thing for her. By the time I got down to that last house we drove by down the road, it had pretty much covered all of our places, it was really quick."
Of Bozeman Fire Dept.
"14-year anniversary with the fire department. So much different than when I got hired… I joined the forest service, 14 years at Bozeman fire, 26 in the fire service."
Topography Of Bridgers
Map of burned area
📍- Aprox Loc of Bob and Jo's Property
"I just grabbed things and got out of here. There wasn’t a blade of grass here, everything was completely charred. Lost the trees in order to build again."
"This is what happens to aluminum windows. Everything was basically flattened. It is horrifying to be up here after the fire. It is just stark and weird, isn’t it? The calmness right now, this is what it was that first day before the wind. I had an unobstructed view of it."
“This is part of the ranch that we were raised on."
"This was summer grazing; our ranch was on summer creek road."
"That has been sold, but our parents left this for 3 of us siblings. We are determined to keep hold of it.”
“You know the one thing, if we try to find a silver lining, we just got so many friends that helped with recovery, and that felt amazingly good. And then we had so many people that brought their expertise to us. Sometimes it was MSU, forest service, I think all have just learned a ton. It was amazing, people were just so kind and so helpful, something you really don’t expect sometimes with such a tragedy."
"Support came rolling in. People sending us food, care packages, thank you signs, all sorts of expressions. People also helping each other, some guy helping another find his cows, people extending their best foot forward, hey what do we need to do? That is a silver lining of a bad fire, but we really saw people reaching out to each other and trying to take care of people that experienced any kind of loss. It is a huge testament to the community.”
“It's really about working together as fire departments in the Gallatin valley. When we first started, we were much more kind of in a silo, like this is our district, that's your district and you take care of your stuff. Wildland fire and specifically the Bridger fire has really made us reassess not just our wildland protocol but in all things.. Like how can we all help each other and work better together.. "
With Nate Bashkirew
"We are stronger together.”
Ways to get involved:
With the current state that the world is in, sometimes it is best to reach out and tell your story.
If you or a loved one have been or are still being affected by the Bridger Canyon Fire we would love to hear your story. Leave a note, write a letter.
We would be forever grateful to hear it.
Zach Begler is a photography student at MSU set to graduate in May of 2022. Begler is the project leader/organizer.
Fran Browne is a graduating senior, pursuing a BA in Film and Photography at Montana State University. Browne is the photographer and website editor of the project. To see her work on Instagram, follow @imagesbyfran.
Eli Hausman is a Junior year photography student at MSU. Hausman was a photographer for the project.
Henry Hedlund is studying film and photography at MSU, however you will find him outside. Henry was an interview planner and writer for the project. To see his work on Instagram, follow @henryhedlund
Beck is a Junior at MSU in the photography program. Beck was a photographer for the project.
Myles Shepard is an undergraduate student at Montana State University studying photography. Shepard worked on community outreach and finding resources for the project.