ROSEBUD COUNTY, Mont. - Ranchers in the path of the Richard Spring Fire said it will take two or three years to recover.
The Richard Spring Fire south of Colstrip burned 171,130 acres and 12 secondary structures. It is no longer listed as an active fire, but recovery is just beginning for ranchers.
"It was extremely hot," Rancher Clint McRae said. "It looks calm now, but it was awful. I did not think we were going to have a house at the end of it."
McRae said he fought to save his home alongside fire crews.
"One of the firefighters had a knife case on his belt that was nylon," McRae said. "And it got so hot, that it started to melt that case. That's how hot this thing got. They foamed my house twice to keep it from burning down. Had those people not been there, we wouldn't have a house left."
McRae's home was saved thanks to those efforts. However, 93% of his ranch burned. McRae also lost about 80% of his hay, along with 40 miles of fence and some outbuildings (including a garage).
"This was an awful fire," McRae said. "It was dangerous. It was a miracle nobody was hurt."
"We'll get through it," he added. "It's not going to be easy."
McRae said they had to sell 3/4 of their cattle because of the sudden loss of so much hay and pasture. He said it will take three years to build up their herd again.
Another rancher down the road from McRae became emotional when she talked about seeing the fire coming.
"I've never seen anything like it before," rancher Julie Cook said. "It was just this black/brown cloud of smoke that was coming."
"Within an hour, it seemed like the ranch was completely on fire," she added. "We've lost probably 80-85% of our ranch. We lost cattle in the fire."
Cook is grateful to fire crews for saving her home. Crews were also able to save all of her hay. However, seeing her burned ranch is still difficult.
"I was saddened because it's like, you work so hard and then in an hour or two hours, everything's gone," she said.