HELENA (AP) – A state of emergency was declared in Montana on Sunday because of several large wildfires, including one northeast of Missoula that had burned more than 28 square miles and was within a mile of homes.
Higher humidity and cloud cover were helping firefighters contain that blaze, which began Friday and rapidly grew Saturday prompting evacuations of some 200 homes. However, there was little growth on the fire Sunday, said Pat Cross, a fire information officer.
“The fire didn’t do much today in terms of moving,” Cross said. “We had a very good day.”
Authorities determined that one home had been destroyed in the fire and another damaged. Cross said it was not known whether they were primary or vacation homes. One commercial building was damaged, along with seven outbuildings and other structures, Cross said.
The wind was largely blowing the blaze back onto itself Sunday after a change in direction. Weather was expected to be favorable for firefighters Monday.
“Tomorrow is supposed to be much like today with a little more cloud cover,” Cross said. “The fire should behave again. It should be fairly quiet and lay down.”
Wind-blown embers were still sparking spot fires up to 2 miles ahead of the main blaze near the popular getaway spots of Seeley and Placid Lakes, authorities said.
Cross estimated containment at zero percent, “only because there isn’t a lower number.”
Two airplanes capable of scooping water from a nearby lake were on scene, as were two helicopters and about 200 firefighters. Montana 83 was closed for safety reasons, and nearly 60 Montana National Guard members were deployed to provide security in the area, said Maj. Gen. Randy Mosley, the guard’s adjutant general.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer declared the state of emergency on Sunday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized federal money to help fight the blaze. FEMA will pay 75 percent of eligible state firefighting costs for the fire, such as the fire camp, equipment and supplies, agency officials in Denver said. The money does not cover damage to homes or other buildings.
In northwestern Montana, about 50 homes ahead of a fire in the Flathead National Forest remained evacuated, and crews had to move their fire camp after the blaze burned to within 2 miles. Residents of the Good Creek area to the north may also be evacuated if the fire continues to grow, officials said.
The Brush Creek fire, sparked by lightning about 26 miles west of Whitefish, grew to nearly 16,000 acres, or 25 square miles, as of Sunday.
North of Thompson Falls, an inversion limited growth of the Chippy Creek fire, which had burned an estimated 36,140 acres, or 56 square miles, in the Lolo National Forest and surrounding areas, said Bob Dyson, fire information officer. All state, federal and Plum Creek roads between U.S. 2 and the Little Thompson River were closed.
Evacuation orders remained in effect for areas near several other wildfires, including a blaze south of Glacier National Park that burned 9,000 acres in one day for a total of nearly 30,500 acres, or more than 47 square miles.
The Skyland fire destroyed two ranch sheds and killed several cattle in its path Saturday. Continued wind was expected to keep pushing the blaze to the south and possibly the north, said Dale Warriner, fire information officer.
In southwestern Montana, residents of 10 homes threatened by a 1,570-acre fire that jumped over a creek remained evacuated Sunday. Officials said nine of the homes were vacated before the order and the last chose to stay. The fire is in a cluster of blazes, one of which triggered an evacuation order Friday affecting 38 homes.
The complex has cost $1.2 million to fight so far, said Pat McKelvey, fire information officer.
Another major Montana fire, the Meriwether blaze north of Helena, was 35 percent contained Sunday at 38,685 acres, or about 60 square miles.
A seven-mile closure of the Missouri River prompted by the fire ended Sunday. The U.S. Forest Service determined public safety no longer was a concern, according to the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission. The closure was imposed July 26.
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