A fire north of here burned more than 22,000 acres and destroyed three homes and numerous outbuildings and haystacks before it was subdued by snow early Tuesday, a Sweet Grass County official said.
“The weather was a huge factor,” Kerry O’Connell, the county’s Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator, said Tuesday. “There were some firefighting tactics that helped in certain places, but it was mostly the moisture.”
Heavy fuels were still burning, including cottonwood trees in creek bottoms, she said.
The Chichi fire was reported at about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, 20 miles north of Big Timber near Melville, in the foothills of the Crazy Mountains.
It advanced quickly Monday night, accelerated by winds gusting to 80 mph and prompting the evacuation of 15 homes, said Marna Daley, a Gallatin National Forest information officer.
The fire burned the wood supports of a bridge on U.S. Highway 191 and the pavement collapsed, closing the route between Big Timber and Harlowton, O’Connell said.
Heavy winds cause damage
Strong winds Monday uprooted trees, downed power lines and blew the roof off an old school building here.
Damage from the storm, with wind gusts of up to 70 mph, led local officials to declare a state of emergency, allowing them to access about $20,000 for restoration work.
“We’re declaring this emergency because financially we are being overwhelmed by the cost of what is happening and by the degree of damage throughout the city,” said Bill Converse, the Anaconda-Deer Lodge disaster and emergency services director.
The roof of Washington School was blown off and the debris scattered with the wind. Large trees were uprooted or snapped and several landed on houses, while others landed on the street.
The power was out much of the night. Outages were reported across the state, said Claudia Rapkoch, a spokeswoman for NorthWestern Energy.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer was scheduled to tour the damage Tuesday afternoon.
Rewards offered for tips on suspects
Secret Witness is offering rewards for information that leads to the arrests of two suspects wanted for separate crimes.
Randazzo D. Jones, 45, has a criminal history that spans nearly 20 years and includes convictions for domestic violence assault, obstructing police investigations, felony theft and possession of stolen property, said Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan.
He is currently wanted for residential burglary and second-degree taking a motor vehicle without the owner’s permission.
Savannah A. Pittman, 21, is wanted for possession of a controlled substance and delivery of methamphetamine, Reagan said.
Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Jones or Pittman should call (509) 327-5111. Tipsters do not have to give their name to collect the reward, but should leave a code name or number.
Presidential primary ballots unveiled
Secretary of State Sam Reed has unveiled the preliminary list of presidential primary candidates.
Democrats on the ballot are Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson.
Republicans are Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, Alan Keyes, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Tom Tancredo and Fred Thompson.
Candidates must turn in 1,000 signatures from registered voters to stay on the ballot. The final list will be announced Dec. 31.
The primary is Feb. 19.
State Republicans will allocate 51 percent of their national convention delegates based on the primary. Democrats won’t use the primary, instead allocating delegates based on precinct caucuses.
Decision delayed on teen sex offender
A 15-year-old high school student facing expulsion for being a registered sex offender may have to wait another two weeks to learn his fate after the school board again decided to postpone a decision Tuesday.
The teen, who pleaded guilty to molesting a 5-year-old girl in Washington state last year, was convicted of three felony counts of child rape and was sentenced to two years probation after serving 70 days in a juvenile detention facility, according to court records.
The school board had decided Nov. 5 to postpone a vote for a week. The student remains on in-school suspension, which means he’s receiving his education outside the general school population.
His attorney, Dan Buckley, told the board the teen should be allowed back into school because he has followed his probation and treatment requirements. Buckley also noted that the board has had a month to gather information on the student.
But school board Chairman Lance Voegele said the decision on whether to expel the teen was postponed again because there wasn’t enough information about the case.
Schools Superintendent Herb Benz said the board is waiting for a legal opinion from the Montana School Board Association on the implications of keeping the student in school or expelling him. He said the school board probably will meet in two weeks to decide the teen’s fate.