During 2020, there were nearly 60,000 wildfires in the US that burned roughly 10 million acres. In September of last year, the BobCat Fire started just outside of Roundup, Montana and quickly became unstoppable . The Krebs family was the first to report the blaze and within minutes the flames took almost everything they had spent years building. Their local Disaster and Emergency Services Director, Andrew Harper, reached out to Goal Zero to help fill the needs of families affected by the fire. This summer, we traveled to Montana to hear the Krebs’ story and learn how our product has helped this community rebuild.
Life in rural Montana moves at a different pace. For the Krebs family, it was exactly what they were looking for. After spending time in California and a Coast Guard Base in Kodiak, Alaska, they found some property near Roundup, Montana and decided to move into tents as they began working on their dream home.
“We lived in tents for two years while we built the cabin,” commented Doug Krebs, “We were the crazy people from California Living in Tents.”
Over the coming years, the family built an off grid lifestyle by finishing work on their cabin, working the land, raising animals, and gardens.
On September 2, 2020, June Krebs and her daughter Colleen Gomez were both going through the daily routines while Doug and Dakota, their oldest son, were in town.
“I was doing laundry in the house, came outside and thought ‘That smells like fresh smoke’. I got on an ATV, went up the road and the smoke was just pure black”, June recalled, “I thought, ‘Oh shit’. I came back down here and called the fire department.”
As the smoke grew thick, animals were cut loose to fend for themselves, and valuables and necessities were grabbed and thrown into vehicles as June and Colleen rushed to evacuate. The winds blew hard, feeding the fire’s rapid expansion. Within an hour, almost everything they had worked to build was gone.
“You couldn't see from the house to the car... There was so much smoke. The dogs panicked and they just... God knows where they went,” June recounted.
The fire tore through the cabin, ripping and burning through hay and feed for their animals. The propane tank exploded. Vehicles were set ablaze and their engine blocks liquified under the intense heat. Heirlooms were destroyed.
By evening, the fire had passed through. What became known as the BobCat Fire continued on its way devouring another 30,000 acres over the course of the next month.
Within days, the family was allowed back on the land to recover what they could. Still without a home, they set up their tents as they had before. As the weather began to progress toward winter, friends and family came through with travel trailers for the Krebs to live in as they began to rebuild everything they had lost.
During the fire, Andrew Harper, the Musselshell County Disaster and Emergency Services Director and long time Goal Zero user, handled coordinating resources for the fire crews, and began working to support the families that were affected by the fire.
As the demands of the BobCat Fire wound down, Harper shifted his focus, making sure those families who lost their homes had what was needed to get through the coming months. After reaching out to Goal Zero, he made sure that power would be available to the Krebs to keep the essentials running as they lived on, and worked on, their property.
Presently, ten months after the BobCat fire, Harper is now the Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for Eastern Montana. He has been developing and testing a way to quickly deploy mobile communication stations to help increase efficiency and coordination during emergencies. With portable power supplied by Goal Zero, satellite internet, and other technical solutions, he believes they will be better equipped to serve their communities when they need it most.
The Krebs family has poured new footings for their cabin and they are in the process of milling wood from their land to begin constructing the new cabin.
“We knew it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ [a fire] would happen, it was a matter of when. We were just hoping that when it did happen that it wouldn’t be so catastrophic,” Doug said with a shrug and a smile. “June has been after me for years to kind of remodel the house. I said, well, you wanted to remodel and that’s what we’re doing.”