Ismay has a long history in eastern Montana.
But the small rural community lost a large portion of it early Friday morning when a fire burned down its post office.
The fire was discovered about 12:30 a.m. Friday morning with almost the entire volunteer fire department responding, along with the fire department from nearby Plevna.
By dawn, all that remained of the post office was smoldering rubble and it remained smoldering for the rest of the day.
The building was built in 1920 and has been remodeled several times in the past century.
According to John Edgell, the chief of the volunteer fire department, the postal service in the community may be resumed shortly.
The Ismay Rural Fire District has ten volunteer members, with almost all responding to the fire Friday morning, the chief added, noting that the entire population of the small town is about 20. He added that two members living in a remote area did not respond to the page.
Most of the people in town did show up, but they weren’t all fighting it, he explained.
When Edgell got the original page, he said that he went to his window and could see the flames through the attic space in the building.
“My pager went off at 12:30 a.m. and I live right here in town. I actually looked out my window and saw flames coming out the ridge from one end of the building to the other showing that it had already penetrated the attic space. That fire was pretty advanced by the time it was spotted.
“We kept the fire confined to the footprint of the building,” he added, noting that the community was lucky the fire had not happened over the weekend when a storm brought winds of up to 50 miles per hour into the area. “There was no spread and we kept the natural gas meter at the rear of the building cooled down. There was never any discharge of gas. No other structures were threatened,” he said.
The building was still smoldering most of Friday. “We knew there was a wind event coming. We let it burn down until 1 p.m. (Friday) and then we saturated that whole area to make sure it was dead and out,” the fire chief explained. “Plevna came out on mutual aid on the original fire call and they also brought some water at 1 p.m..
“It would have been a whole different ball game if it had happened on Saturday night,” Edgell said, noting that winds of 50 to 60 miles hit the community over the weekend.
According to Chuck Lee, the director of Fallon County Emergency Services, the county was hit with wind gusts measured at 55 miles per hour Saturday night.
“The building was insured and at this point, our best guess is that it was a natural gas heater in the back room that was the source of ignition,” the chief explained.
The post office is hiring a fire investigator, according to Edgell. “It is standard protocol (for a federal facility),” he explained, adding that the post office was leasing the building. “It is the desire of everyone in the community that we maintain a post office here in Ismay. Every indication so far is that it (the post office) will be replaced.”
Temporarily, the Ismay postmistress will be working out of the Plevna facility, with plans being made on how to bring the post office back to the small community.
Over the years, the times have changed for Ismay.
It became famous in 1993 for changing its name to Joe as part of a publicity campaign for NFL quarterback Joe Montana being traded from San Francisco to Kansas City. That campaign actually helped the community build a new fire hall and community center in the town. That enabled the community to sell souvenirs celebrating “Joe, Montana” and more.
It also was not the first name change for the community which also had been named Burt in the past. The town’s current name was from compressing the names of a railroad executive’s two daughters.
At one point, cattle shipping and other business created a city of 500 people and included its own elementary and high schools.