Firefighting resources stretched; homes burn
BILLINGS – Rapidly expanding wildfires across a broad swath of southern Montana have caused injuries and burned homes, buildings and vehicles, authorities said Thursday, as firefighters struggled to contain the flames amid hazardous conditions.
The precise toll of the latest spate of fires to hit the state remained uncertain. But at least three evacuation orders were in place and well over 150 homes were threatened by blazes that in some cases burned unchecked.
High temperatures and erratic winds made the fight more difficult. And with at least nine large fires burning in Montana, officials said there was increasing competition for adequate equipment and personnel.
“We hope for everything but take what we can get,” said Karen Tuscano of the U.S. Forest Service.
Tuscano was responding to a new wildfire in the Paradise Valley near Yellowstone National Park. The blaze known as the Pine Creek Fire ignited Wednesday and resulted in minor injuries to firefighters and members of the public, the Park County sheriff’s office said.
Residents caught unaware were forced to flee the village of Pine Creek without packing any bags, said Park County Commissioner Marty Malone.
He said about 200 people live in the area and that some tried to fight the fire themselves, including a man who ran a hose on the flames until the power to an electric water pump was cut off by the blaze and the water stopped running.
The Park County attorney said five homes and eight other structures were damaged, according to the Livingston Enterprise.
And the flames advanced to threaten houses in the Deep Creek area, Tuscano said.
The fire had grown to an estimated 8 square miles, less than a day after it was reported Wednesday afternoon on private land near the Yellowstone River. The cause was under investigation.
A resident who failed to heed an evacuation on a fire south of Butte suffered second-degree burns to his hands and arms, said Forest Service spokeswoman Mariah Leuschen. That blaze, the 19 Mile Fire, has burned more than 4 square miles and at least nine structures, including two houses.
An estimated 100 houses remained threatened by the fire. Residents briefly were allowed back in with escorts Thursday to check on the condition of their property.
To the east, an estimated 20 residences and summer houses remained evacuated from a fire burning on the northeast front of the Beartooth Mountains near Roscoe. Crews had a crude line around the fire by late Thursday and a federal firefighting team brought in to handle the blaze was reassigned to the Pine Creek Fire, said spokesman Jeff Gildehaus.
South of Bozeman, officials said six houses and 20 commercial buildings and outbuildings were threatened by the Millie Fire, which exploded from less than 1 square mile to more than 15 square miles from Wednesday to Thursday. The fire was uncontained Thursday.
Wildfires were burning in at least six other western states. In California, the Goff Fire continued to threaten about 80 homes in northwest Siskiyou County, while the North Pass Fire in Mendocino County threatened 64 more residences. Both fires are about one-fourth contained.
And a blaze in Wyoming’s Teton Wilderness has scorched 19 square miles after making a big run Wednesday. The fire spread away from an area with summer cabins, though, and fire officials said it may burn itself out soon.
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