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Community rallies around firefighters and evacuated neighbors

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PHOTO BY ALLAN HATHAWAY

By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – Flames continue to rage as the Bridger Foothills Fire sweeps through the Bridger Mountain Range near Bozeman leaving a charred landscape in its wake. In a time of destruction and uncertainty for many, the Bozeman community has feverishly rallied in response, assisting neighbors displaced and those working on the frontlines in any way possible. From local businesses and organizations to individual citizens, aid is arriving rapidly in all forms. 

Evan Locke has lived in Bozeman for two years. Locke and Marie Morin, an ex-coworker of his from OnX Maps, recognized the need to help coordinate fire information and relief efforts. Together they launched the “Bridger Foothills Fire — Info & Resources” Facebook group on Sept. 5. 

The group exploded with more than 8,660 members joining in just a single day. That number is continually growing and offers of assistance on the group range from that of lodging for both people and their animal companions, to food donations, to assistance evacuating and more.

“In crises like these, I find, it’s better just to help people get access to all this dispersed information,” Locke said. “So, that’s kind of been my focus.”

Locke added additional administrators to the group to help coordinate relief efforts. One of those administrators is currently in the process of organizing a food train and many local businesses are joining the effort. 

“I believe they’re getting organized to do meal trains with a bunch of other local restaurants, so hopefully I’ll jump on board with that in the next couple days,” said Adam Paccione the owner of Red Tractor Pizza. “I know they’ve got tonight and tomorrow taken care of already though.”

Paccione and his staff are offering any items that they can from pizza, salad and ice cream, to the restaurant’s full array of drinks to those displaced by or working at the fire. He and his staff already sent pizzas to the American Red Cross on the evening of Sept. 5 and to an evacuated individual who was taking shelter in their vehicle on Sept. 6. 

“This community has really taken me in and supported me in the last 10 years that I’ve been here. I just appreciate that community aspect and us coming together,” he said. “There’s so much division in our country today and we can’t have that moving forward with a situation like this.”

Treeline Coffee Roasters co-owner’s Deejay Newell and Natalie Van Dusen jumped at the opportunity to help first responders providing granola bars and single serve pour over coffee packets to the Salvation Army on Sept. 6 for first responders and others working tirelessly on the frontline. Additionally, throughout the duration of the fire, all first responders will have their coffee tab covered when they stop in to refuel at either Treeline location.

“It wasn’t really a decision; it was just the right thing to do,” Newell said. “We have been so supported by this community since … day one of starting our business. It’s why we live here; it’s why we all live here.”

The pair want to help in any way they can without overloading the system of relief and Newell encourages evacuated individuals to reach out to her if they need assistance.

“This is a time for all of us to lend help if we can and ask for help if we need it and I just think we need to come together as a community and get through it,” she said.

From pizza to coffee to beer, community businesses are offering it all. Mountains Walking Brewery & Pub will offer any food and beer that they serve free of charge to firefighters and other first responders on Sept. 7 thanks to support from an anonymous donor. 

“One of our priorities is to be involved with the community and to help the community, so those fires, they hit close to home and we just want to be a positive influence on the people putting their health and safety on the line to protect us all,” said Mountains Walking Brewery Founder and Director of Brewing Gustav Dose.

The brewery will be open 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sept. 7 offering free food and beverages to first responders. “We really appreciate what you’re doing and we’re thinking about you and we’re doing our best to support you,” Dose said.

The Hilton Garden Inn opened their doors to provide an alternative drop-off location other than the Salvation Army for donations of all items aside from furniture. “We’ve already gotten a ton of donations today,” said Rika Evert the assistant general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn. “… That’s the one beautiful thing about our community is that we all do step up together to help each other out because we’re all neighbors.”

The inn began accepting donations on Sept. 6. Being a locally owned business, the decision came easily, according to Evert.

“We all were born and raised here. We grew up here and I went to high school here and Bozeman has a special place in my heart,” she said. “We are very much into giving back to the community when we can and we saw that the community needed us and I just felt compelled in my heart to do something about it.”

After coordination between the Greater Gallatin United Way and the One Valley Community Foundation on Sept. 6, monetary donations can now be made to the Bridger Foothills Fire Relief Fund

“In the days after the smoke clears, we’re really going to need to help those who’ve lost everything,” said Jennifer Lammers the board president of One Valley Community Foundation. “… Through partnering with the Greater Gallatin United Way, we know that we can provide a reliable source for accepting and then quickly dispersing funds to those in need.”

Lammers said an early estimate of donations was not available as the relief fund page was launched at roughly noon on Sept. 6.

“Seeing online how many people have offered shelter to [a] stranger, offered to go after animals who were fleeing the fire—I think that in times like this we all have to look to each other and Gallatin Valley has proven itself to be a community that responds graciously and generously to those in need,” she said passionately reflecting on the community’s response to the fire.

At a Sunday afternoon public meeting, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin directed those looking to donate and assist, or with questions to the 211 help line.

The support continues even beyond the Facebook group. Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter is accepting pet food donations, while the Salvation Army coordinates receiving and distributing donations to first responders and those in need of assistance.

Additionally, the American Red Cross opened a shelter for evacuated individuals and families in need of housing on Sept. 5 in response to the fire. The shelter is located at Christ the King Lutheran Church. These are just some of the numerous businesses and organizations offering to lend their services during this unprecedented time.

“We’re all in this together. We’re all here to support,” Paccione said. Newell echoed his sentiment: “I would just say Bozeman Strong, like we’re all in it together.”

The acts of selflessness went beyond donations as Locke continually downplayed his role in helping the community rally together.

“It’s less even an interview about me, but more just highlighting how awesome this community is,” he said.

Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to visit volunteermt.org. To make monetary donations visit greatergallatinunitedway.org or onevalley.org. 

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