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Denton marks anniversary of devastating West Wind Fire

Town of Denton reeling from loss of homes and grain elevators
Fire in Denton, Montana
Denton residents survey damage after devastating fire
Wildfire near Denton in Fergus County
Posted at 10:51 PM, Dec 01, 2022

The community of Denton holds years of special memories for the Poser family. Josh Poser grew up in the community and it's where the couple is raising their two young daughters.

On December 1, 2021, a wind-driven fire ravaged the town, destroying dozens of homes and upending the lives of its residents, including the Posers.

"A year later - it just brings it all back. We kind of dreaded the day. We thought 'What are we going to do on that day?' Do we stay here and work or get out of town and try not to think about it? It just brings it all back and I can't believe it's been a year," said Robyn Poser.

Poser family
Poser family

With each day that goes by, there is less evidence of the West Wind fire. For those that call Denton home, it will never be the same.

"There was a house there, but they moved in a modular home for an older gal in town and then there was a house there. There was a house there," said Calvin Bronec, a volunteer firefighter and Denton resident. In fact, much of the community is involved in the volunteer fire department.

Bronec was one of the first to respond to calls of a fast-moving grass fire west of Denton. Given that it was December, firetrucks were not equipped to extinguish large wildland fires, which hampered the process. Bronec explains, "I got a fire call at 11 o'clock November 30th and then the wind was howling. We went and responded to a residence west of town and went to structure protection." Some families evacuated the town on the night of November 30th.

Fire destroys buildings in Denton, Montana
Fire destroys buildings in Denton, Montana

Ash and smoke continued to pour into Denton but it appeared the fire would move north of town leaving it mostly unscathed.

Residents returned to town, and the school even opened on December 1st. A sudden change in wind direction caused haystacks and the railroad trestle to ignite. Residents had minutes to grab their belongings and flea the community as the fire began impacting properties in own.

By dusk, the grain elevations caught fire and sent embers flying into homes and business. Many firefighters, including Calvin Bronec, were fighting for others' homes as their own were going up in flames. "This is kind of where our department set up and we kind of made a stand. We were able to save Roger Campbell's house there," Bronec says.

Fire in Denton, Montana
Fire in Denton, Montana

The fire continued to spread north and south of town along the train trestle as darkness further impeded firefighting operations. Calvin was weeks away from completing a renovation on an older home, which he lost to the fire. Fortunately, his family's rental down the street and their belongings were salvaged.

When Robyn and Josh Poser returned to Denton, their home was seemingly intact. However, like many other homes, it burned from the inside out.

Robyn explained, "We opened the front door and it's just black and holes in the floor and wall, everything was just gone. It was my worst nightmare."

Josh is a carpenter and built most of what was within their home. Even a year later, the family struggles with losing so many precious memories. In spite of their pain, the couple is working tirelessly to rebuild.

"We built this house together. The kids have colored one of every surface of the wood that's going up and they love it. It's going to be great to be here," says Robyn. The cold and snowy November has made rebuilding an arduous process, but the Posers hope to be in their new home by April 2023.

When asked whether the fire would drive residents out of town, it was a resounding no. "There was never a question that we were going to leave here, we knew we'd rebuild knowing that we had all of that strength of the community behind us. It just made it easier to stay and to know that we're going to have help," explains Robyn.

Governor meets with fire victims in Denton
Governor meets with fire victims in Denton

Post-fire life does not come without anxiety and unease in the community. Every time the wind starts to blow, many residents fear the worst. However, Denton residents are not allowing fear to drive them away from a place so dear to them. Colin Ayers, a volunteer firefighter and lifelong resident, is adamant about staying in town: "I wasn't going to leave this place. I can tell you that, we were going down with it."

Ayers is one of the first to respond to what became a statewide effort to save his hometown. From Glasgow to Helena, more than 175 firefighting personnel assisted in fire containment and cleanup. Ayres noted, "When stuff like this happens, small town America shows up - it's awesome."

The town continues to raise money for construction and infrastructure:

We are raising funds to raise the town, and 100% of the proceeds will go to the Denton Lions Club. Started in 1955, the Denton Lions Club is a 501c4 public benefit organization. Their mission is to serve and be leaders in humanitarian service for Denton. The club has extensive experience with organizing local efforts. It will help coordinate donations from multiple actions and establish criteria to gift directly to area citizens devastated by the West Wind Fire. The club will align resources essential for new construction, clean-up, critical infrastructure, and fundamental living necessities.

Click here if you would like to help.