Firefighters Near Helena Brace for Wind

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Firefighters braced for winds Friday to propel a 32,000-acre blaze north of here past rocky areas and into grass, as people allowed back into homes evacuated a day earlier settled in, sort of.

They were told that leaving again could be necessary if the blaze became threatening.

Crews had contained 33 percent of the Meriwether fire, burning in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness and detected July 21. Fire managers hoped progress achieved during the week would not be reversed as forecasts called for 35 mph gusts, said Cheryl Larsen, a fire information officer.

Forecasts of wind and continued heat, with temperatures in the 90s, were expected to trigger red-flag warnings later in the day.

“We’ve had a window of opportunity the last couple of days to make some good advances, continuing construction of the fire line and fortifying it,” Larsen said. But she said the anticipated wind was apt to “test the lines” that firefighters dug along some areas of the fire as they worked to contain it.

“The plan is to continue constructing line, continue fortifying it,” Larsen said.

Ten fires with acreage in four figures or higher were burning in Montana on Friday.

The Ahorn fire about 30 acres west of Augusta had burned 40,000 acres since July 11 and was 5 percent contained.

But 93 percent of the 3,000-acre Garceau fire in northwestern Montana was contained and heavy mop-up was under way as managers trimmed the firefighting force of several hundred people, giving them breaks or transferring them to other blazes, information officer Terina Mullen said.

“This one’s in the final stages and should be wrapped up within a few weeks,” Mullen said. Most of the remaining work was in the fire’s northwestern area.

On the 22,000-acre Fool Creek fire, burning since June 28 in the Lewis and Clark National Forest west of Augusta, plans called for continued use of water drops by helicopters.