BILLINGS - A house remains intact Sunday after the Fritz fire burned the surrounding area Friday.
Crews continue to work toward containment of the Fritz fire south of Billings as operations begin to wind down on the wildfire Sunday. The blaze ignited Friday and was one of the first in a string of fires that ignited across Yellowstone County over the weekend.
The Fritz fire off of Duck Creek Road and Fritz Road was about 90 percent contained Sunday morning, and more accurate mapping has reduced its estimated size to about 1,350 acres, said Brad Shoemaker, emergency services director for Yellowstone County.
"It's mostly mop-up right now, where the guys are going and seeking out the hot spots near the fire’s perimeter and structures within the perimeter," Shoemaker said.
The Fritz fire was reported at about 5:30 p.m. Friday and destroyed a house and a garage. It also damaged another home and eight out buildings. On Sunday 10 structures were still threatened by the fire, and most of the work left is in areas around buildings, Shoemaker said.
Rick Cortez, chief of Blue Creek Volunteer Fire Department said the last evacuations and road closures were lifted by 6 p.m. Sunday. About 18 residents were evacuated at some point over the weekend but some folks were allowed back into their homes as the surrounding area cooled.
Susan Dickson returned to her log home off of Fritz Road on Saturday. The house was surrounded by scorched earth but the home was saved by firefighting efforts.
Dickson said the fire charred her large wooden deck and the heat blew out some of the home's windows. The close flames melted the thermometer for her outdoor temperature gauge and destroyed the wiring for her internet service. The walls nearest to the fire on the North side were superficially burned.
But Dickson said the kindness of others prevented serious destruction. She was at a movie when the fire started and wasn't allowed to return to her home Friday night. Her Labradoodle, Daisy, was still in the home and couldn't be retrieved.
Fortunately, a man who Dickson had never met went out of his way to keep the dog safe. He keeps cattle in the pastures surrounding Dickson's home and had seen the dog many times while bringing water to the livestock. After the fire started he drove into the area to check on the cattle and grabbed Daisy while he was up there, Dickson said.
She said she's also grateful to all the firefighters who worked to save the homes in the neighborhood. But when she thanks them they credit another member of the community for keeping the flames from destroying the home she's lived in for more than 20 years. Billings Flying Service jumped into action with a helicopter response when the fire started and saved homes in the area without compensation.
"I just feel like everyone did these things on their own. They weren't asked to do it, it was just community support," Dickson said.
About 130 people were assigned to the wildfire Sunday, including three type 2 hand crews and 15 engines. Electric crews also worked to replace utility poles destroyed the first night of the fire. The Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the fire’s cause, but a lightning strike appears to have ignited a coulee south of Fritz Road.
Shoemaker said resources are being released from the incident as areas cool and containment increases. The fire perimeter did not grow Sunday, and there was no significant fire activity. Crews will likely work one additional day at the scene.
"The weather has been good today, and it's not looking bad tomorrow," Shoemaker said. "We caught a little break, and it's going to give us an opportunity to get a handle on this one."
He said the Cow Creek fire near Pompeys Pillar was 100 percent contained Sunday and burned about 110 acres. No structures were damaged, and all roads are open in the area. Its cause has not been determined.
Yellowstone County is currently under Stage One fire restrictions. Fires outside of city limits are prohibited without a written permit. Fires fueled solely by liquid petroleum that can be turned on and off are also allowed in areas cleared of flammable materials overhead and within three feet of the device.