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Storms worry firefighters battling Montana blaze

COLUMBUS, Mont. – A 3,500-acre wildfire near here calmed considerably Sunday after nearly tripling in size the day before, but crews were still worried about the potential for erratic fire activity from a storm front expected to roll in today.

Two air tankers, two helicopters and four single-engine planes dropped water and retardant on the Cottonwood fire Sunday, as two dozers helped 125 firefighters dig and reinforce fire lines, said Lee Schmelzer, public information officer for Stillwater County.

The fire, burning in grass, timber and brush about 13 miles northeast of Columbus, blew up Friday afternoon and was fanned Saturday by wind gusts up to 30 mph. On Sunday, the weather was hotter but “much calmer than the day before,” and the fire did not grow, Schmelzer said.

Stronger winds were expected again today, as was a round of afternoon thunderstorms.

Southeast of Ashland, the lightning-sparked Erickson Spring fire held steady at 2,700 acres Sunday and was nearly fully contained, fire information officer Dena Lang said.

The Prospect fire in the Lolo National Forest near Superior remained 80 percent contained at 3,210 acres on Sunday, while the 2,200-acre Signal Rock fire was just 15 percent contained nearly a month after being sparked by lightning seven miles south of Skalkaho Pass.


Nearly 200 people evacuated from their homes after a wildfire roared to life in a state park were allowed to return home Sunday night.

The residents spent a night at a shelter set up by the American Red Cross at a local school. Families, mostly from the homes directly south of La Pine State Park, were offered food and a cot to sleep on.

Bob Young, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry said no homes were lost. The fire, which started Saturday afternoon, covered less than 200 acres, but it came close to some homes. Its cause is under investigation.

Officials said bulldozers and firefighters had cut a line around most the main blaze, but smaller fires caused by flying embers made containment difficult.


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