High temperatures, low humidity and predictions for more dry and windy thunderstorms were on the minds of fire managers Sunday as more than 400 firefighters battled a complex of wildfires that has blackened about 100,000 acres east of Billings.
“I’m telling you, brother, it is toasty out here,” said U.S. Forest Service staffer Dixie Dies, who is on the management team for the Pine Ridge complex of fires.
In all, five major fires were burning Sunday in southern and eastern Montana. Collectively, they had burned about 188,000 acres or about 294 square miles.
Temperatures Sunday were in the mid- to upper-90s in south-central and eastern Montana. Very dry grasses – easily set ablaze by the dry lightning that has plagued the area for the past few days – made for an “extremely volatile situation,” said fire behavior analyst Ed Lieser.
Lieser said fire crews plan to substantially increase nighttime operations.
One of the Pine Ridge fires threatened four homes east of Pompeys Pillar late Saturday, “but they came out all right. Everything was OK by the time the night was over,” Dies said Sunday afternoon.
Late Sunday evening, authorities closed the eastbound lanes of Interstate 94 near the fires to “facilitate the suppression of fires.” They did not immediately say when the lanes would be reopened.
Elsewhere, specially trained “hot shot” crews were deployed on the Watt Draw fire, which has burned about 8,000 acres on the Custer National Forest and on private land southeast of Ashland.
The fast-moving Bundy Railroad fire, northeast of Worden, prompted fire managers to pull fire crews off the lines Sunday and put them to work protecting a handful of ranch homes in the area.
Abandoned infant recovering
A newborn was recovering at a hospital Sunday after apparently being discarded in a plastic bag near a retaining pond, KING-TV reported.
The baby boy appeared to be just hours old, with umbilical cord still attached and blood on his body. Marysville police say they are talking with a person of interest.
The child’s cries – heard through an open window at a nearby home – prompted residents to search the area late Saturday.
The man who eventually found the child in a torn plastic bag had originally thought people were hearing a cat.
The infant, found behind a fence surrounding the retaining pond, may have been tossed there, KING reported.
Three rescued from Pacific
Three Oregon men are alive after spending 6 1/2 hours clinging to an ice chest in 65-degree Pacific Ocean water after their boat sank about 45 miles off the coast, the Coast Guard said.
Only one of the men wore a life jacket as a Coast Guard helicopter lifted them from the water Friday evening.
The search for the men, who were fishing for tuna, began around 1:30 p.m. when the Coast Guard received a call for help. Four helicopters and a search plane flew over the ocean for hours and two rescue boats from the Yaquina Bay station in Newport responded to the call. The men were located at about 8 p.m.
“Because we didn’t have a clear location as to where the boat went, we tried to send as many units out there as possible and cover the most ground,” said Coast Guard spokesman Shawn Eggert.
He said Sunday that the incident was still under investigation and didn’t expect to have more information until after the men were well enough to be interviewed.
Eggert said the boat carrying the men was a 25- to 28-foot pleasure craft owned by Bob Templin, 53. Templin, unwilling to speak about the incident, said his two friends were in the hospital.