Missoula County fire fund nears $90,000 in donations, committees vetting requests

The Rice Ridge fire burns near Seeley Lake earlier this summer. (Inciweb)

A fund established by the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management and held in trust by the local chapter of the United Way has received nearly $90,000 in donations to help those impacted by the summer fires.

Bob Homer, director of operations with United Way of Missoula County, said Wednesday that donations have come from 43 states and a number of area businesses, the latest being a $10,000 pledge from Blackfoot Communications and the Missoula Electric Cooperative.

“There’s a lot of local support, and it’s amazing what we’ve gotten from people around the country,” said Homer. “Things are starting to calm down, and as people assess their losses, there’s a committee that’s reviewing those requests.”

Casey Gallagher with the local chapter of the Human Resource Council said committees established in both Seeley Lake and Lolo are evaluating requests from victims of the 2017 fire season as they come in.

“We’re really just trying to respond to the community needs in both those areas,” said Gallagher. “One-hundred percent of this funding is handed out, so we’re trying to be responsive and dig into what the impact is.”

For nearly three months, the Lolo Peak and Rice Ridge fires burned tens of thousands of acres and forced the prolonged evacuation of area residents.

Schools in both communities were equipped with air HEPA air filters, purchased in part through the fire fund. In Lolo, at least two homes burned, though the fund helped the property owners cover their deductible, Gallagher said.

“We’re reaching out to community members who suffered losses because of that long evacuation period, and we’re encouraging people to get a hold of us,” said Gallagher. “We’re encouraging them to check their homeowner and rental insurance polices. Some things, like motel stays, are covered by that.”

The fire fund was established in August at the United Way through a request from the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management. By the close of August, the fund had netted roughly $8,000 in donations and pledges.

That has increased to nearly $90,000 this week. Blackfoot CEO Jason Williams and Mark Hayden, the CEO of the Missoula Electric Cooperative, together pledged $10,000 to the fund.

“Both of our workforces are focused on helping those in need, and we’re proud to provide relief for many through this donation, including our business community and schools,” said Williams.