Fire North of Manhattan Has Burned 13 Square Miles

Witnesses first spotted the fire at about noon Sunday, and by the end of the day it had grown to an estimated 13 square miles

By Justin Franz

BOZEMAN — A human-caused grass fire north driven by gusting winds was threatening an estimated 50 homes and ranches Monday north of the town of Manhattan, fire officials said.

Witnesses first spotted the fire at about noon Sunday, and by the end of the day it had grown to an estimated 13 square miles. The fire was uncontained as of Monday morning, Gallatin County Emergency Management officials said.

The fire was burning in the Horseshoe Hills north of the town of about 1,500. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The fire was driven through dry grass by strong winds, and continued to burn overnight despite the cold nighttime temperatures, Gallatin County fire warden Kerry O’Connell said Monday.

“What’s unusual with this fire is that it was actively burning at 4 a.m. this morning at 34 degrees,” O’Connell said.

Four of the state’s firefighting helicopters planned to drop water on the fire while ground crews built fire lines to protect homes and buildings nearby.

About 50 residences are threatened by the fire, according to the Northern Rockies Coordination Center. That includes the Gallatin River Ranch subdivision is just to the south of the fire line, O’Connell said.

The fire was moving toward the northeast, where there are several ranches. The nearest was within 200 feet of the fire line, O’Connell estimated.

Law-enforcement officials have notified residents of both the subdivision and the ranches to be prepared to leave, though no evacuation orders have been issued, she said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, though county officials said it was human-caused.

Wind gusts between 40 and nearly 70 mph blew across parts of the state on Sunday, stoking fires that had been smoldering with the cooler weather.

The wind was calm Monday morning for firefighters battling the blaze near Manhattan, but it was expected to pick up in the afternoon to between 10 and 15 mph.

The National Weather Service also warned of critical fire conditions in dry parts of northern Montana.

Any fires that develop in that area are likely to spread rapidly, according to the weather service.

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