Crews Subduing Mont. Wildfire; Calif. Fire Shows No Signs of Slowing

August 22, 2007

A wildfire that destroyed two homes was no longer threatening a residential area Tuesday and authorities were ready to let evacuees return, a fire chief said.

Residents had been ordered to leave the Emerald Hills subdivision as fire crews contended with a combination of low humidity, rugged terrain and wind gusting to 38 mph.On Tuesday, however, the 800-acre blaze east of Billings was about 75 percent contained.

“We’re making some great gains with the fire,” said Lockwood Fire Chief William Rash. “We will have people working this 24/7 the next couple of days.”

Rash said the evacuation order would be lifted at noon.

Several outbuildings and vehicles also were lost in the fire, but authorities said crews saved about 50 homes that otherwise would have burned.

“There’s some lucky people up here,” said homeowner Pete Gannon, whose unburned house was surrounded by charred trees and the smoldering remains of two of his barns.

Fire officials in western Montana said “good progress” was made Monday on a fire northwest of Missoula.

Up to 100 homes were still evacuated because of the blaze, which grew to 11,515 acres Monday night and was 30 percent contained. Three mobile homes were destroyed.

Near the town of Seeley Lake, another fire was estimated at 34,810 acres, or 54 square miles, and was 28 percent contained Monday night. One home has been destroyed in that fire, and several others damaged.

Southeast of Missoula, 213 cabins and homes remained under evacuation orders in the path of an 84-square-mile group of fires burning in three national forests.

California’s third-largest wildfire in modern state history showed no sign of slowing down Tuesday, as hot, dry weather kept the blaze raging in wilderness areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Dozens of ranches had been put on alert.

The wildfire had blackened 337 square miles in Los Padres National Forest since July 4. It was 77 percent contained early Tuesday.

Firefighters faced rugged terrain, temperatures in the 90s and extremely low humidity in an area that hadn’t burned in 75 to 100 years, fire officials said.

Also Tuesday, a 17-square-mile fire in Idaho remained within a mile of about 100 summer cottages and million-dollar homes near the resort town of Ketchum, but no structures had been damaged.

Evacuation orders remained in effect Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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