FRENCHTOWN — A wildfire apparently started by a lawnmower has burned more than a square mile just northeast of Frenchtown and led to the evacuation of hundreds of residences.
The Mill Creek Fire was reported just after 2 p.m. Thursday by a man who said his lawnmower chipped a rock, sending a spark into the dry grass. The fire raced uphill, away from the town, burning more than 700 acres.
The Missoula County sheriff’s office issued voluntary, but strongly recommended, evacuation notices to homeowners north of Interstate 90 between Fred Lane and Mill Creek.
Resident Vikki Fahrenbruck told the Missoulian the fire was in her backyard, prompting her to load her cats and a cockatiel into a car and flee quickly.
“They’re shaken — they’re a little upset,” Fahrenbruck said, referring to her two cats yowling in the car near a roadblock. “I had to pull them out from under the bed.”
Missoula City-County Animal Control employees were assisting residents with pets, and a staging area for livestock was set up at the Missoula County fairgrounds.
Meanwhile, southwest of Philipsburg, the 100-acre Moose Meadow Fire was reported Thursday afternoon and had burned about 100 acres. The Granite County sheriff’s office was evacuating residences in the Moose Lake and Copper Creek areas.
The cause of the fire was still under investigation.
There are at least eight active wildfires burning in the state, the largest being the nearly 10-square-mile West Mullan fire outside Superior in western Montana.
That blaze was 82 percent contained, and an evacuation order has been lifted.
In the Bitterroot National Forest 35 miles southwest of Sula, the lightning-caused Gold Pan fire grew Thursday to nearly 8 square miles, fire officials said.
The fire is burning in a remote, steep rocky area, officials said.
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