Fire destroys post office in town once named Joe, Montana

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BILLINGS, Mont. — A fire early Friday destroyed the century-old post office in the tiny eastern Montana town of Ismay, which once unofficially changed its name to Joe, Montana as part of a Kansas City radio station's publicity stunt. That happened when the four-time Super Bowl champion quarterback was traded from the San Francisco 49ers to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993.

The fire was reported at about 12:30 a.m. Friday by a resident investigating a power outage that apparently was caused by the fire, said volunteer fire chief John Edgell.

“The whole department showed up, which is the whole town,” Edgell told The Billings Gazette. Ismay has a population of about 20 people.

Four engines and eight firefighters from nearby Plevna also responded, he said. No other structures were threatened. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but there is a furnace in the area of the building where it appears the fire started, officials said.

Ismay — Montana's smallest incorporated city — put itself on the map nearly 30 years ago by agreeing to call itself Joe, Montana, at the request of a radio station in Kansas City, Missouri.

At the time, the town needed to fix its fire truck. The city clerk suggested printing up 500 Joe, Montana, T-shirts and selling them to raise the money for the repairs, resident Gene Nemitz told the Missoulian in 2015.

But once the name change made national news, the town was able to sell a lot more than 500 T-shirts.

After eight years, the sale of T-shirts and other souvenirs and Joe, Montana, postmarks raised enough money for the little town to buy a new fire truck and build a fire hall and a community center, which is named after the Hall of Fame quarterback.

The U.S. Postal Service is working on a contingency plan to resume mail service by next week, Edgell said.

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