Montana Fire Could Burn Until Mid-September, Fire Managers Say

August 10, 2007

A wildfire near this resort town could continue into the fall unless it rains, even though work to restrain the blaze is showing results, fire managers said.

“We’ve got about a month and a half of this left,” safety officer Scott Bates told fire crews at a Wednesday morning briefing.

“You guys have got to pace yourselves,” he told firefighters, urging them to get plenty of rest.

Fire commander Glen McNitt said the area usually doesn’t see substantial rainfall until mid-September and it was conceivable the fire could last until then. “This country will burn, and it will burn fast and furious,” he said.

The fire has charred more than 26 square miles since it started Friday about 50 miles northeast of Missoula. It was 10 percent contained.

“We are prepared for the worst, and people should pray for the best,” Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Tuesday on his second visit to the wildfire.

Firefighters passed the hat Wednesday to help a young couple who lost their house to the fire. The blaze has also destroyed some other buildings, including a garage filled with the possessions of a family that was building a house.

Some 1,500 homes are threatened by the fire, which was about 2 miles away from Seeley Lake, a town of about 5,000 summer residents. Residents remained in Seeley Lake, but hundreds of outlying homes were evacuated.

Several other fires also continued in Montana, leading to evacuation orders near Billings, Plains and Darby. Such orders remained in effect near several other blazes, including fires southeast of Missoula and a fire southwest of Whitefish that has burned more than 29 square miles.

The state’s largest wildfire, north of Plains, had burned 84 square miles by Wednesday night. Residents of about 50 rural homes remained under evacuation orders.

In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a six-day-old blaze that has spread across 28 square miles claimed its first structure, an abandoned hunting cabin. A 220-person crew completed a wide firebreak Tuesday to prevent the fire from threatening the village of Newberry, and was ready to attack the flames directly.

“Now, we’ll start getting in there and aggressively battling it,” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Ann Wilson.

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