LOLO — Two lightning-caused fires burning west of Lolo grew rapidly Monday, burning homes and leading authorities to issue evacuation notices and warnings to residents to be ready to flee.
Firefighters confirmed that homes had been damaged but were not immediately able to verify how many, the Missoulian reported.
Voluntary evacuations were in effect and homeowners in the Bear Creek area were given notice to be ready to flee if the fire spreads.
Residents in and around the targeted area were taking heed, fire information officer Cindy Super said.
“People are leaving,” Super said. “It was a bad day, no doubt.”
The West Fork II Fire moved north and jumped U.S. Highway 12 at about 2:45 p.m., while flames appeared to surround two homes on the south side of the road, the Missoulian reported.
Gusty winds pushed the fire from the top of a ridge to the bottom in less than 15 minutes, and in the following 15 minutes, moved another 2 miles down the canyon toward the town of Lolo, in a run that burned an estimated 3,500 acres, or 5 ½ square miles.
Motorists were trying to put out spot fires in the ditches while others were trying to corral two horses. A passing sheriff’s deputy yelled at everyone to leave.
“There’s nothing we can do about that,” he shouted. “We are trying to save lives.”
The Bear Creek Road area has about eight homes and other private structures, fire officials said. It was not immediately clear how many people left their homes, Super said.
Meanwhile, the nearby Schoolhouse Fire had burned an estimated 600 acres headed northeast toward Blue Mountain. No homes were immediately threatened, officials said.
U.S. Highway 12 has been closed to through traffic from west of Lolo to the Idaho state line, though residents were being allowed to access the area.
A planned public meeting Monday for residents in the area has been canceled due to fire operations.
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