Better Weather Conditions Help Some Montana Firefighters

The danger to the town of Heart Butte, which was evacuated Friday evening, was lessened some on Sunday

By Dillon Tabish

HELENA — Light rain dampened some wildfires in far western Montana on Sunday, while other fires closer to the central part of the state continued to spread and threaten rural residences.

After most fires grew on Saturday because of warm, windy conditions, Sunday’s weather brought at least cooler temperatures across the state.

“We were hoping that today would not be so active and that’s the way things have been working out,” Brad Purdy, spokesman for a complex of fires burning in the Kootenai National Forest near the Idaho border, said Sunday afternoon.

Purdy said conditions improved so much on one fire burning south of Libby that fire managers on Sunday morning lifted an evacuation order issued the previous day for 28 rural residences outside the town.

Rain also calmed fires burning in Mineral and Missoula counties west of Missoula that had earlier destroyed five Forest Service structures.

To the north, a fire in the Flathead National Forest near Glacier National Park that forced the evacuation of the small community of Essex also was not as active Sunday, according to fire spokesman Ted Pettis.

“It behaved itself pretty well,” Pettis said. “I drove through the fire area today and it was pretty calm. I didn’t see any open flames. It was smoking in places.”

In the western part of the state close to the Idaho border, a wildfire near Tarkio, Montana, that had grown to about 19 square miles slowed down on Sunday, spokeswoman Kim Smolt said.

“It hasn’t grown much in a day and a half. It’s just creeping along right now,” Smolt said, noting that five U.S. Forest Service structures have been destroyed. There are no reports of injuries or deaths, she said.

About 300 people in the area have evacuated from their homes, Smolt said.

To the east, on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, no rain fell on a wildfire that forced the evacuation of the community of Heart Butte. In fact, fire managers recommended Sunday that some rural ranches in the vicinity of the Swift Reservoir leave.

Spokesman Bill Morse said no new mandatory evacuation orders were issued, but the fire was continuing to spread.

The danger to the town of Heart Butte, which was evacuated Friday evening, was lessened some on Sunday because firefighters were able to burn potential fuels around the town and the fire was more active in other areas, Morse said.

“They got a pretty good line established around it,” he said.

The American Red Cross expects 115 people from Heart Butte to spend the night at a shelter set up in Browning, spokeswoman Anna Fernandez-Gevaert said.

The fire, which is about 2 miles from Heart Butte, has burned more than 77 square miles.