Rice Ridge evacuees 'grateful' to have a place to stay at Camp P - ABC FOX Montana Local News, Weather, Sports KTMF | KWYB

Rice Ridge evacuees 'grateful' to have a place to stay at Camp Paxson

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SEELEY LAKE -

The Rice Ridge Fire burning east of Seeley Lake as of Thursday morning grows to 120,759 acres. It is only 5-percent contained, while and air quality conditions continue to remain "hazardous."

It's news that residents living in the small tourist town are reluctant to hear, especially those who are still evacuated from their homes after more than a week.

ABC FOX Montana's Angela Marshall spoke with evacuees staying at Camp Paxson, who tell her they are hoping to sleep in their own beds soon, but grateful to have somewhere to stay.

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Billy Kittrell makes a large pot of coffee, enough for all of the evacuees of the Rice Ridge Fire to have a cup, or two.

"I'm making a mess," Billy Kittrell says.

He's too busy to be interviewed on camera. 
He cooks for everyone, who has recently made Camp Paxson in Seeley Lake their home.
And that includes him, his wife, and their two-year-old grand-daughter.

"In the beginning, it was… if we are going to have a place to go," Debbie Kittrell says. "And then we found Camp Paxson. "

Debbie and her family have lived in Seeley Lake for 25 years in the eastern outskirts of town.
This is the first time, she says, that they have never had to evacuate from a wildfire.

"This is the first time we have had to get out. We've had the warnings before, but nothing like this."

Standing under the smoke-filled skies, it's hard for her to breathe. 
Her 83-year-old mother was even take to Missoula's St. Patrick Hospital to be treated for smoke-induced pneumonia.

"It seems like it's just getting worse every day."

Debbie and her family are three of a dozen people evacuated to Camp Paxson. At one point, there were almost 60 people.

Lisa Maughan and her family are allowed to return to their home, but she sticks around to help, even giving students a lift to the bus stop to head to classes at Paws Up Resort.

"I went to the bus stop at Lindey's," Lisa Maughan says, "And made sure that they were all off and ready to go for the day."

Typically a setting for summer camps, conventions, or weddings, Camp Paxson is now the center for evacuees.
But the neighbor-helping-neighbor attitude resonates throughout the historic compound.

"After we found this place, you know, there's no worries about where we're staying," Debbie Kittrell says. "And they welcomed us with open arms… and an open kitchen."

A slight relief from worry and it's all thanks to generous donors like you, Montana.

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The caretaker of Camp Paxson, Jo Warneke, tells Angela that people from as far away as North Carolina have donated goods to the victims of the Rice Ridge Fire.

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