Updated: Tuesday, 4:20 p.m.
HAMILTON — Firefighters were bracing for strong winds and the sheriff’s department ordered more evacuations in the area of a western Montana fire that destroyed 14 homes and may have contributed to a man’s death, officials said.
The flames had burned nearly 7 square miles in the Bitterroot National Forest by early Tuesday, said fire information officer Mike Cole.
Residents of about 630 homes southwest of Hamilton were under evacuation orders Tuesday while another 215 homes were placed on alert due to concerns the fire may blow up in the evening, said Ravalli County Undersheriff Steve Holton.
Sheriff Chris Hoffman asked residents to be alert for further evacuation updates.
About 500 homes were evacuated or under alert soon after the fire started on Sunday afternoon. Family members of Bruce Robinson, 64, said he died of a heart attack he suffered Sunday while trying to evacuate from the fire area.
At least 700 people attended a public meeting Monday night where Hoffman said they showed a time-lapse video of the fire, which made it clear that there was no way to have prevented it from burning out of control.
Hoffman said Holton toured the burned area and said it looked like a moonscape.
The 200 firefighters working the blaze Tuesday were going to be in more of a defensive mode, trying to hold onto the gains that were made Monday and protecting homes, Cole said. That work included moving flammable items away from the foundation of homes and cutting small trees.
Helicopters were going to be used to drop water on the fire as long as the pilots could see what they were doing and the wind wasn’t blowing too hard, Cole said. Temperatures were warming up and fire activity was increasing early Tuesday afternoon, but the winds hadn’t moved in yet.
Also in Montana, a new fire started Tuesday afternoon along Montana Highway 200, about 16 miles northwest of Wolf Creek. Lewis and Clark County dispatchers tell the Independent Record a telephone pole fell across the highway near its junction with Secondary Highway 434. The fire was reported at 5 acres at about 1:30 p.m. and was estimated at 500 acres by 3:45 p.m. Sheriff Leo Dutton says no evacuations have been ordered and no structures are threatened. An air tanker and at least one helicopter were being used to fight the fire.
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