‘They lost everything:’ Fire spreads from chicken coop to saddle shop, killing several animals

HELENA Mont. -- A massive fire destroyed a saddle shop in Montana, and took the lives of several animals.

On Sunday, Dec. 30, flames and heavy black smoke rose from the shop on Tuohy Drive in the Helena Valley. The fire started before noon.

East Valley Fire Chief Dave Sammons said it was started by a heat lamp in a chicken coop. The fire spread from there to an adjacent building where hay was stored.

"It was stuffed to the gills with hay. Right now, all of that hay caught fire, so were having to pull that hay out, spread it out and put it out," said Sammons.

The fire reached the main shop, where it equipment, several vehicles and ammunition burned, and a propane tank vented.

"It was very dangerous, just because we didn't know what we had," said Sammons.

Firefighters also had to battle Mother Nature, as a cold front brought in heavy snow and wind.

"It forced us to move to the west, because it just inundated our apparatus with smoke," said Sammons.

No humans were in the building, but Sammons said some chickens and rabbits were killed. No firefighters were injured -- but Sammons said the building was too unstable for crews to enter.

"I wasn't going to put a firefighter in there and have the roof come down on them," said Sammons.

They had to use heavy equipment to bring down the walls and reach the remaining fire. Sammons thanked the property owners for cooperating.

"I feel bad for them. That was a big business that they lost. They lost everything in there," said Sammons.

More than 40 firefighters were on scene from at least eight agencies.

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