Fires Prompt Emergency Declaration in Montana

August 7, 2007

Montana was under a state of emergency Monday as firefighters battled several huge blazes, including one northeast of Missoula that had burned more than 28 square miles and was within a mile of homes.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer declared the state of emergency Sunday as the wildfire prompted authorities to issue an evacuation order affecting some 200 homes.

The blaze 11/2 miles west of the town of Seeley Lake had blackened about 18,000 acres as of Monday morning. Fire information officer Pat Cross said some residents would be allowed to visit their homes for a few hours Monday morning.

“We had a relatively good day yesterday (Sunday), relatively little fire growth,” Cross said.

Parts of Montana received rain but “we got sprinkles, not even enough to mess up the windshield,” he said.

Most of the people told to evacuate complied, but a few chose to remain in their homes, Missoula County Undersheriff Mike Dominick said. Dominick said people tend to think their houses won’t be affected or that they can fight the fire.

About 50 homes ahead of a fire in the Flathead National Forest in northwestern Montana remained evacuated, and crews had to move their fire camp because the flames had come within 2 miles. Residents of the Good Creek area to the north may also be evacuated if the fire continues to grow, officials said.

The Brush Creek fire, sparked by lightning about 26 miles west of Whitefish, grew to nearly 16,000 acres, or 25 square miles, as of Sunday.

North of Thompson Falls, an inversion limited growth of the Chippy Creek fire, which had burned an estimated 36,140 acres, or 56 square miles, in the Lolo National Forest and surrounding areas, said Bob Dyson, fire information officer. All state, federal and Plum Creek roads between U.S. 2 and the Little Thompson River were closed.

In southwestern Montana, residents of 10 homes threatened by a 1,570-acre fire that jumped over a creek remained evacuated Sunday. Officials said nine of the homes were vacated before the order and the last chose to stay. The fire is in a cluster of blazes, one of which triggered an evacuation order Friday affecting 38 homes.

The complex has cost $1.2 million to fight so far, said Pat McKelvey, fire information officer.

Another major Montana fire, the Meriwether blaze north of Helena, was 35 percent contained Sunday at 38,685 acres, or about 60 square miles.

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