In the Center of Flames


The Browning family ranches in what most people would call the middle of nowhere. Mosby, Montana is a community of about 100 people spread over ranches that are 60 miles from a town with a population over 1,000 people. The Browning ranch is 16 miles north of former Mosby Post Office and was at the heart of where the Lodgepole Complex Fire started. Currently the Lodgepole Complex Fire has burned over 270,000 acres and destroyed 16 homes.

The following is a recount from Tierany (Browning) Ballard of what her family experienced during and after the fire:

“Waking abruptly at 3:30 am to a bad lighting storm with only a sprinkle of rain to follow, we knew to expect fires the next day. Sure enough, Wednesday afternoon we spotted four smoke plumes. We, along with our neighbors, scrambled to report the fires and get resources out to them asap.

With the extreme drought in Eastern Montana and the rugged terrain of the Missouri breaks the fire blew up quickly. We kept an eye on the location of the fire as it progressed and talked of moving our cows if the Barker fire advanced to the south or the Bridge Coulee Fire to the North. The Bridge Coulee fire slowly continued South towards Calf Creek.

Thursday evening, with increased winds, the fire raged across Calf Creek, then jumped Old Stage Road and continued on to jump the Mussellshell River and took off to the west. At the time my parents, Travis and Alaina Browning, were on the South Breaks Fire. Dad dozing fireline, and Mom supporting him with the fuel truck.

Over radio traffic they heard of the Bridge Coulee Fire’s advancement and a Mosby resident being injured and needing an ambulance. Without knowing whether or not it was an injured family member, they headed home as soon as they could. They drove through the flames crossing Old Stage Road to defend their home and children. I cannot imagine the worry they must have felt.

Travis Browning pictured, photo courtesy of Ross Ballard

The next few days were a blur as we raced back and forth from the Bridge Coulee Fire to the Barker fire moving cattle as quickly as possible to the safest locations and putting out fire as it flared up. We had guys manning dozers and the road grader, making firelines on both the east and west sides of the river as quickly as possible. Saturday the fire engulfed what was left of our pastures on the east side and also burnt around 400 acres on the west side.

Now that we finally have a grip on the fire in our area, the main focus will be to gather, sort and trail cows home to get them to water and feed. We have yet to figure out our losses and what the next step will be. This tragedy is overwhelming , we fear the worst is yet to come. Not only the present issues we face, but also the long term effects of the fire. We are faced with the issues of not having enough pasture for the amount of cattle, possible grazing restrictions on our BLM leases and the slow regrowth of pasture. Also the many miles of fence that will need rebuilt.

Photo is courtesy of Alaina Browning

God Bless all of our family, neighbors, community and firefighters that defended our homes and livestock, for all those who continue to support us through this nightmare. We cannot thank you all enough! Our community has been so generous and continues to go out of their way to bring the firefighters and those affected supplies. Together we saved what we could and together we will make it through this disaster.”

For a list of ways to help this area click here.

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