By Breeana Laughlin
Daily Inter Lake
A townhouse on Big Mountain was totally destroyed and another townhouse was damaged during a massive fire Thursday night.
At 9:42 p.m., Big Mountain Fire and Rescue responded to the report of a structure fire on Slopeside Drive in a residential area near the ski slopes at Whitefish Mountain Resort. They were quickly joined by crews from Whitefish, Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Evergreen fire departments.
Flames were already leaping out of the two-unit townhouse when firefighters arrived at the scene.
As fire crews approached, they could see flames coming out of the first and second story windows, as well as the roof, according to Big Mountain Fire Department Chief Ben Devall.
Nearly 30 firefighters battled the blaze for about five hours in freezing conditions on snow-packed ground. A sharp wind was another concern for firefighters as they fought to keep the blaze contained.
The structure was a total loss. A townhome to the west also caught on fire, but firefighters were able to put out that blaze and protect other structures in the dense subdivision, according to Devall.
“We sent fire crews into the structure to the west three times and we were successful extinguishing it,” he said.
Devall thinks that townhome suffered some smoke and water damage, but said it likely wasn’t a complete loss.
No one was injured, and none of homeowners were present during the time of the fire. A couple of dogs were removed from a unit to the east in case the flames escalated, Devall said. They were reunited later with a house-sitter.
This is the largest fire the chief has responded to in nearly 20 years with Big Mountain Fire. Given the winter-like weather, it could have been worse, he said.
“The amount of fire showing was pretty impressive. It was snowing extremely hard and blowing wind, which made our suppression efforts harder,” Devall said. “We were extremely lucky the fire didn’t spread.”
Devall said firefighters were very thankful for a neighbor who provided his garage as a warming spot with coffee and hot cocoa. He said he was also thankful none of the responders were injured.
One hose erupted, and the firefighter holding it was checked out, he said. There were also slips and falls from firefighters struggling to maintain footholds on the frozen ground.
Devall expressed appreciation for the response from firefighters throughout the county.
“I’m extremely thankful for our mutual aide partners. The county as a whole works very well with each other and it keeps getting better and better,” he said.
Two firefighters were still on the scene Friday morning to keep hot spots from re-igniting.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Reporter Breeana Laughlin can be reached at 758-4441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.