Wind, Lightning Strikes Push Fires Across Montana

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – High temperatures, low humidity and steady winds helped a wildfire in southeastern Montana spread to more than 5,000 acres Tuesday, prompting evacuations near Lame Deer.

Fire officials say the blaze is about half a mile north of the town on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Marilyn Krause, a spokeswoman for the Northern Rockies Type II incident management team, said the fire is not contained and is among five burning in the area.

She said mandatory evacuations have been ordered northwest of Lame Deer, but she did not know how many homes or people were affected.

Also in Rosebud County, three lightning-caused fires about 30 miles south of Ashland in the Custer National Forest had scorched about 8,300 acres by about 10 p.m. Tuesday.

The latest string of wildfires in the state comes after a relatively quiet fire season due to a wet, cool spring.

Firefighters on Tuesday were unable to contain a blaze that had burned 2,000 acres east of Missoula, but officials said they believe the threat to nearby homes had been reduced. Crews were putting out hot spots and patrolling the area near the 40 threatened West Riverside homes about seven miles east of Missoula near the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers.

No evacuations have been ordered and no structures have been damaged. Incident commander Ken Parks said in a statement the imminent threat to the homes has been greatly diminished.

Fire officials said Tuesday afternoon the blaze had not expanded much since its rapid spread Monday night, when it increased from 150 acres to 1,500 acres within a matter of hours.

Meanwhile, two fires, at 2,800 and 1,350 acres, respectively, were burning in the Flathead National Forest, but both were in remote areas. Another wildfire in northeastern Idaho spread to 18,275 acres and crossed the Montana line into Ravalli County, officials said.

That fire threatened seven homes, two commercial properties and several outbuildings.

In southeastern Montana, crews were fighting a dozen new wildfires on the Crow reservation after numerous lightning strikes from a weekend thunderstorm. The largest burned 775 acres of grass and sage northwest of St. Xavier, while another in the Reno Creek valley was threatening homes.

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