There’s a sisterhood among wildfire-plagued communities that stretches from Seeley Lake to Sonoma County, California.
Even as the confirmed death toll from Northern California fires rose to 29 Thursday and structure losses in Santa Rosa alone approached 3,000, the small Montana town by the lake was reaching out and beckoning displaced victims.
“We would like to offer to open up our community and homes to those who have lost homes or were evacuated due to the Sonoma County fires,” said an invitation posted Wednesday on the Seeley Lake Community Foundation Facebook.
The offer was also extended via press release to the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, although Emily Rindal isn’t sure how effective it’ll be.
“I’m sure they’re overwhelmed with everything, overwhelmed with news right now, but that was our best thought, that and Facebook,” said Rindal, an insurance agent in Seeley Lake and a board member of the community foundation.
Many homeowners in the Seeley Lake area are seasonal and have either headed south for the winter or are about to.
“The Seeley Lake Community Foundation felt like it might be able to make some of those homes available to those caught up in the California fires as a place to come and stay and relax,” Rindal said. “I’m sure you’re aware how stressful it was for this town. It was just nice to get out and relax and feel like things were normal again.”
Rindal was first to open her home at Double Arrow Resort to the California victims after the board approved of the idea on Tuesday. There were two houses made available by Thursday afternoon, though no takers yet from the blackened Golden State.
“Montana had our share of wildfires this summer, and Seeley Lake in particular was really affected by the Rice Ridge fire,” Rindal said. “We had a lot of people help us out as a community and we wanted to pay it forward.”
The town of Seeley Lake reaches a population of some 2,200 in the peak summer months. Most were evacuated in late August as the Rice Ridge fire lapped just outside. The threat stretched on for more than a week. Coupled with weeks of choking smoke, it disrupted the opening weeks of school and virtually all businesses in the area.
Miraculously, heroically, no homes burned. The only losses of life were a firefighter from Missoula hit by a burning snag on Rice Ridge in a previous fire and a hotshot from southern California, who died two weeks later and 40 miles away on the Lolo Peak fire.
The financial impact on Seeley businesses was substantial.
“Seeley Lake relies heavily on tourism, and of course a lot of that tourism is in the three months of summer,” Rindal said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get much of a summer because of the wildfires.”
Inviting outsiders to town is a win-win situation.
“It helps out people in California who’ve lost their homes and at the same time it can get people to come up to Montana and Seeley and see what we have to offer,” Rindal said.
Those in California who are interested in taking Seeley Lake up on its offer, or to make a home available, can contact Rindal at 406-212-1357, at her office at 406-677-3090, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. The number for the Seeley Lake Community Foundation is 406-677-3506.