New Fires Ignite Across Montana

By Beacon Staff

COLUMBUS (AP) – A new fire in south-central Montana burned through a 60-home subdivision late Tuesday afternoon without destroying any homes.

The fire just east of Columbus started at about 4 p.m. near Interstate 90 and prompted evacuation orders for the Pine Crest subdivision on Allen Creek Road, said Ken Mesch with disaster and emergency services in Stillwater County.

The 250- to 300-acre blaze quickly passed through the grass and trees of the subdivision, and no homes were lost, said Jeff Bollman with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Resident Jo Stewart said she got a call from a friend warning her of the fire and looked outside to see flames approaching up the hillside. She said she gathered some of her animals but was initially prevented from leaving the subdivision by smoke and flames.

She was able to escape only after a plane dropped a load of retardant on the blaze.

“It took no time for it to cross the road and go up the hill,” Stewart said. “It’s very dry. It’s scary.

“My horses are still up there, and we’re waiting so we can go see them.”

Meanwhile, a fast-moving wildfire prompted evacuations Tuesday for about 10 to 15 homes in the Evaro area, north of Missoula.

The Black Cat fire started at 2:15 p.m. and had grown to about 400 acres by 8 p.m.

Evacuation orders were in place on the west side of U.S. Highway 93 from mile marker 3.5 to mile marker 6, said Jane Ellis, manager of the public information call center for the fire. Residents in the same area on the east side of the highway were on pre-evacuation alert.

In addition, only one lane of Highway 93 was open from mile marker 1 to mile marker 7.5.

Firefighters assisted by helicopters and retardant planes were working to stop the flames.

“It looks like this will be more complex to manage than we thought,” said Jamie Kirby with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

The fire remained about 2 miles from homes, she said.

A red flag warning, denoting critical fire conditions, was in effect along the Rocky Mountain Front and adjacent plains through Tuesday night. Gusty wind and low humidity levels were forecast, with similar conditions expected in south central and southeastern Montana on Wednesday.

South of Livingston, the Wicked Creek fire burned to within a few feet of a church camp in the Mills Creek area. No structures were lost, and the fire was estimated at 12,000 acres Tuesday morning, said Marna Daley, fire information officer.

“Cloud coverage in the area and light winds resulted in little fire growth (Monday),” she said.

Nearly three dozen homes and six cabins remained evacuated. A specialized “Type 1” management was expected to assume control of that blaze and another sparked by lightning in the Gallatin National Forest last week.

The Hicks Park fire remained at about 1,500 acres Tuesday night, and 30 homes, four church camps and a guest ranch south of the Fourmile cabin to the head of the Main Boulder River drainage were still evacuated.

Crews made “significant progress” slowing the fire’s spread with water and retardant drops, Daley said.

A fire west of Wisdom ballooned to 8,000 acres by Tuesday afternoon. It was “too intense” to fight directly, said Arlee Staley, fire information officer. A historic barn and cabin were among the structures threatened by the Rat Creek fire, and area residents were put on alert to evacuate.

West of Seeley Lake, the 21,270-acre Jocko Lakes fire was 9 percent contained and crews expected a break in the weather after struggling to save 10 homes in a subdivision over the weekend, said Pete Buist, fire information officer.

Crews were building and reinforcing fire line in that area in anticipation for stormy weather later in the week, he said.

“Our forecast shows that while (Tuesday) is going be hot, it’s not going be as windy,” Buist said. “We still have time to get ready for some rather squirrely winds predicted for (Wednesday).”

Residents of about 300 homes remained evacuated, and the blaze was threatening 1,500 structures. One home has been lost, and another damaged.

Montana 83 also was still closed between Clearwater Junction and the Summit Lake overlook area.

In eastern Montana, crews were gaining ground on more than 20 fires sparked by weekend thunderstorms in Custer, Powder River and Rosebud counties.

The Trail Creek fire about 50 miles southwest of Broadus had burned about 14,000 acres and was 100 percent contained Tuesday night. During the height of the fire, an outbuilding and cabin that were part of a hunting camp were destroyed, said Dena Lang with the Bureau of Land Management in Miles City.

The 5,770-acre Road Creek fire, 15 miles northwest of Broadus, also was expected to be 100 percent contained late Tuesday, said Dwayne Andrews, fire information officer.

The Lost fire, 25 miles south of Ashland, was still at about 2,000 acres but was no longer an immediately threat to homes in Otter, Lang said. Otter is a community of 700 on Montana 484 near the Wyoming border.