National News

Hot, dry weather causes more wildfires to flare up in Montana, California

Posted: 07/30/07 at 8:34 pm

HELENA, Mont. -- A trio of fast-moving new wildfires in Montana threatened more than 100 homes and other buildings, and 80 were under evacuation orders, officials said Monday.

One blaze, discovered Saturday and believed to have been human-caused, had burned about 1,000 acres -- about a square mile -- along Interstate 90 in western Montana southeast of Missoula. Residents of about 40 homes were asked to leave, according to fire information officials.

Farther to the southeast near Philipsburg, residents of another 40 homes were ordered to leave in advance of another new blaze that had burned about 1,000 acres there. About 40 other outbuildings also were threatened by that blaze, and crews were placing protective fire wrapping around the structures Monday, said Nick Spang, fire information officer. Erratic winds were expected as a cold front moved through.

"We're not letting anyone up there unless they're going up to there to collect belongings," he said.

A third fire in the area has been burning for more than two weeks but flared up recently, said Nick Spang, a fire information officer. Granite County authorities were prepared to evacuate as many as 100 homes threatened by the 300-plus-acre wildfire.

The fires were burning not far from the Rock Creek Lodge in Clinton, home of the Testicle Festival, a five-day bacchanalia where thousands gather to consume deep-fried bull testicles, known as "Rocky Mountain oysters."

The 25th annual bash is set to begin Wednesday, and lodge co-owner Rodney Lincoln said he was told the fires would not affect the festival because the fires were moving away from the lodge.

"There's some smoke, but in terms of flames, compared to last night it's pretty mellow in my estimation," Lincoln said. "A little smoke isn't going to hurt us. It's not going to deter people from coming."

A huge plume of smoke was visible in Helena from a fire to the north in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness.

Elsewhere around the state, evacuation orders remained in effect for 40 homes along the Missouri River, and the wilderness area and surrounding recreation sites remained closed.

The state's largest fire, west of Augusta, grew to 30,000 acres -- about 47 square miles. The blaze, burning since July 11, crossed fire lines in several other areas and was heading toward Benchmark in the western part of the state, fire managers said.

Montana and Idaho each had more than a dozen fires, far more than any other state, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Idaho has seen far more land burned, but its biggest wildfire by far, a 1,020-square-mile blaze that at one point threatened two small towns along the Nevada line, was expected to be completely contained by Tuesday morning, said fire information officer Bill Watt. Rain last week helped crews battle the two-week-old fire, which destroyed three outbuildings and killed an unknown number of cattle.

Elsewhere, a wildfire started Sunday afternoon in eastern Michigan's Huron National Forest and damaged at least three homes before firefighters contained it at about 500 acres, police said. About 100 people were evacuated, although nearly all were allowed to return to their homes by Sunday night, said state police Sgt. Tim Gronda.

Authorities say the fire, about 130 miles north of Detroit, was contained but not yet controlled.

"Within a four-mile radius, nothing is left unburned -- it just took everything," said Carol Nilsson, fire information officer for the national forest. "It was a very fast-moving fire and did a lot of damage."

In California, a nearly month-old wildfire in Santa Barbara County that had appeared to be standing still flared up over the weekend, burning 1,500 new acres and causing an evacuation order for a dozen rural homes, authorities said.

Warm and extremely dry conditions allowed the fire to burn through old, heavy trees in the Los Padres National Forest on its uncontained southeast side.

The blaze had consumed about 33,500 acres, or 52 square miles, since it started July 4. It was 70 percent contained Monday.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Latest National Videos