From the ashes | TSLN.com

From the ashes

by Laura Nelson
for Tri-State Livestock News

Montana's third-largest livestock auction barn burned to the ground in less than two hours Saturday, June 13. After skipping the June 16 weekly sale, the Miles City Livestock Commission (MLCL) is set to resume auctions June 23.

Frontier Stockyards internet livestock marketing operates out of the MCLC main building, which office manager John Morford said was a total loss. Frontier's marketing operations were not impacted. "I lost my physical office and equipment, but all the transactions and bookkeeping is back up online, so we're not down at all," Morford said.

MCLC owner Bart Megad said weekly cattle sales will begin again June 23. "The consignors that were slated to come the 16th just held them to come this next week plus we'll have the regular consignments for this week." He confirmed that the bulk of the 500 head or more he expects on the 23rd will be weigh-ups – bulls, cows and heiferettes. A portable scale was certified after being moved in near an old hay shed that will serve as a temporary auction ring.

Megad is pleased to learn that his regular clients have not qualms about doing business there amid in his facility. "Even though there was a little chink in the armor here they still have confidence that we can conduct their business even without having the barn itself standing."

“The Megeds, they’re just great people, and they have the farmers and ranchers with their concerns at heart. Office Manager John Morford

Custer County Fire Chief and Department of Emergency Services coordinator Bud Peterson said fire officials had determined the fire likely started near a storage room under the stairwell of the wooden grandstands, behind the brand office.

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Temporary office manager Eileen Wright said blueprints for a new building were being looked at as early as June 17.

Cleanup of the fire site began on the 18th, as the insurance details were being finalized, Meged said.

The official cause of the fire is still under investigation, Deputy State Fire Marshal Dick Swingley said June 16. No formal reports or further information has been released. Miles City Fire and Rescue, Custer Count Fire, ATF, Custer County Sheriff's Office and the Montana State Fire Marshal's Office are all involved in the investigation. The scene was turned back over to MCLC owners Bart and Misty Meged on Monday.

"The Megeds, they're just great people, and they have the farmers and ranchers with their concerns at heart," Morford said. "They'll do everything they can to have a sale next week and give producers the chance to have a sale."

He noted that livestock holding facilities are still available, and animals are still being kept and cared for. "They've got it taken care of," Morford said.

USDA officer in charge John Kimbrell said while the MCLC is one of the three livestock auction facilities he uses to compile weekly market reports for the state, and Montana's reports are used to compile the 12-state index that determines national market prices, he said the loss of one week's sale in Miles City wouldn't have an impact on larger sale or market reports.

"They ran just shy of 1,300 head through last week (before the fire), so there are still some pretty decent numbers coming to town there," Kimbrell said. Most animals going through the sale barn this time of year are cull cows, which may be easier for producers to hold over a week.

Miles City Fire Chief Gary Warren said there were animals near the 15,000 square foot building when the fire started, but they were all safety and quickly removed. No people were in the building at the time of the fire, he added. One firefighter was injured at the scene, but was released from medical care and returned home in good condition Sunday, Warren said.

The fire was initially reported at 12:20 p.m. June 13. At that time, smoke was visible in the front of the livestock center.

"Within 30 to 45 seconds, the next call came from dispatch that flames were coming through the window," Peterson said. "It didn't take very long to get the building fully engulfed."

He estimated at its peak, flames reached up to 80 feet high. More than 20 city and county fire fighters responded to the blaze.

The first fire truck was on the scene at 12:23, Warren said, and the building was fully engulfed by the time he arrived at 12:30. Crews remained on the scene into the night, mopping up hot spots.

"It took less than two hours to burn it completely to the ground," Peterson said.

Miles City has had several large fires in recent history, he said. The 2009 fire on Main Street destroyed several downtown buildings. He estimated the fire at MCLC is one of the three largest the local fire fighters have battled in the last 30 years.

Original building blueprints were discovered in a safe after the fire, Morford said, dating the building to 1954. The two-story wooden structure was a total loss, the fire officials said, with estimated damages totaling more than $1 million.

When originally built, the blueprints noted the holding capacity of the yard was 3,000 head. Today, it's grown to 9-10,000, Morford said.

"There was a lot of history here; a lot of good history," Morford said. "It's a tragic event, but it will come back bigger and better, and it will thrive again."

Meged appreciates the backing his business has received from the community. "I'd like to thank everybody for all of their support and cooperation – you really don't realize how many people one of these livestock auctions affects, economically. It makes a community to make one of these go so I really appreciate all of the support."

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