HELENA — Governor Brian Schweitzer issued an executive order proclaiming an emergency in Lewis and Clark, Broadwater, Jefferson and Madison counties due to numerous fires and the extremely hazardous wildfire conditions.
Lewis and Clark County officials began evacuating additional homes north of Helena as strong winds Tuesday afternoon fanned a 1,400-acre fire that destroyed at least four houses a day earlier.
Winds gusting up to 52 mph were recorded early Tuesday afternoon, pushing the fire to the northeast.
Sheriff Leo Dutton said officials were evacuating houses a half mile ahead of where they expect the fire to go, “but that’s like trying to guess where water’s going to go.”
The fire started shortly after 4 p.m. Monday. Dutton declined to reveal the cause, other than to say it was human-caused and it was an accident.
One of the burned homes belonged to a soldier who is deployed with the National Guard in Afghanistan, he said.
A red flag warning remained in effect until midnight Tuesday, forecasting high winds and low humidity for the Corral fire and at least five others burning in eastern and southwestern Montana.
The National Weather Service said temperatures in Miles City hit 111 degrees Tuesday — the highest ever recorded there.
North of Billings, the Dahl fire near Goulding Creek in Musselshell County triggered evacuation notices for 90 to 150 rural residences, said Melodie Lloyd with the Bureau of Land Management.
The fire was initially reported early Tuesday afternoon at roughly 100 acres in size but spread to an estimated 3,000 acres by late afternoon.
As strong winds and low humidity frustrated attempts to contain the blaze, two helicopters and two heavy air tankers were ordered to bolster firefighting efforts, Lloyd said.
County officials said a second fire, estimated at 500 acres, was burning south of the town of Musselshell.
The fire in the Bear Trap Canyon west of Bozeman grew to 2,300 acres, or about 3 1/2 square miles, by early Tuesday afternoon. Sustained winds of 40 mph grounded firefighting aircraft and pushed the fire across state Route 84 to the north. The highway was closed.
The Bureau of Land Management said the fire was human-caused.
High winds also kept firefighting aircraft grounded Tuesday at the Pony and Antelope fires, which have burning a combined 3,100 acres in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
The Pony fire has burned 3,000 acres and prompted evacuations of about a dozen homes in a rural community southwest of Whitehall on Monday.
About 30 miles away, north of Whitehall, the Antelope fire scorched 682 acres of rugged, remote terrain and crews have to contend with rattlesnakes that could be in the area, according to the Forest Service.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.