LOLO — A fifth house was confirmed destroyed by a wildfire burning west of Missoula that grew to over 13 square miles after a run late Tuesday afternoon.
The Lolo Fire Complex also destroyed an unknown number of outbuildings and vehicles, Missoula County sheriff’s Capt. Brad Giffin said.
One Hotshot crew, five hand crews, a helicopter, 10 engines and other heavy equipment were battling the fires Tuesday. Officials ordered additional resources and Gov. Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency, which allows the use of National Guard resources ranging from personnel to helicopters.
“The fires in Idaho, California and Washington have put a strain on the resources,” said Crystal Beckman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
The Lolo fires may be bumped up in priority when a national Type 1 emergency team takes over management on Wednesday morning, she said.
Additional resources will likely be needed, as fire managers said the weather forecast did not bode well.
“Predicted weather over the next several days will continue to challenge firefighters,” fire information officer Cindy Super said. “Heavy smoke will impact air operations, and the potential for fire growth is very high.”
Gusty winds caused the lightning-caused fire to flare up both Monday and Tuesday afternoons, but it was quiet overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday morning. Firefighters are concerned about the potential for strong, shifting winds in the afternoon.
Voluntary evacuations were recommended for residents from Bear Creek Road to Sleeman Road, Beckman said. It was not immediately clear how many houses are in that area.
By Tuesday night, evacuations had spread to Sleeman Creek Road.
U.S. Highway 12 was closed to all except residents and emergency personnel from Lolo to the Idaho line. Officers were stopping vehicles and checking identifications, allowing residents through to check their property or help neighbors.
No injuries were reported. A shelter was established at Christ the King Church in Missoula.
At least 19 notable fires were burning across the state on Tuesday, according to fire officials.
A new fire in south-central Montana forced the closure of a portion of U.S. Highway 212 about 5 miles south of Red Lodge and led to the evacuations of three homes in the Rock Creek area, fire officials said.
The Rock Creek Fire had burned 600 acres along the highway near the Rock Creek Resort by Wednesday morning. The road, also known as the Beartooth Highway, connects Yellowstone National Park and Red Lodge over the 10,947-foot Beartooth Pass.
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