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Drought, predicated wind gusts, challenge Montana wildfires battle

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 2, 2017, 10:21 p.m.

This 2014 file photo shows Granite Park Chalet towards on Heaven's Peak in Glacier Mational Park, Mont. The main building of an historic, backcountry chalet in Glacier National Park in northern Montana burned in a wildfire Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. (Erin Madison / Erin Madison/Great Falls Tribune)
This 2014 file photo shows Granite Park Chalet towards on Heaven's Peak in Glacier Mational Park, Mont. The main building of an historic, backcountry chalet in Glacier National Park in northern Montana burned in a wildfire Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. (Erin Madison / Erin Madison/Great Falls Tribune)

HELENA – Crews battled multiple fires in drought-parched Montana on Saturday, and some evacuation orders were in place.

Firefighters were bracing for a cold front this weekend that was expected to bring gusty winds that could make things worse.

“We’re trying to really get things buttoned down, (build a) strong perimeter around the fire,” said Crystal Beckman, an information officer on the Sartin Draw fire in eastern Montana.

That fire had burned 140 square miles since it was reported Wednesday. It was burning in grassland and timber about 120 miles east of Billings.

It was only 10 percent contained. Fire managers said no structures had been destroyed but about 100 were threatened.

Authorities said the fire was started by natural causes but they did not specify if it was lightning.

An even larger fire was burning nearby. Lightning started the Brush Flat fire on Wednesday, and by Saturday it had burned about 262 square miles of grass, brush and timber.

A fire information officer didn’t immediately return a call, and no other information was immediately available.

Sheridan County, Wyoming, Fire Warden Bill Biastoch said the Brush Flat fire had extended into Wyoming, burning about 60 square miles in that state.

The East Fork fire in northern Montana had burned about 34 square miles and prompted some evacuations, but the Hill County Sheriff’s Department could not say how many residences were covered by the orders to leave.

Authorities said five structures have been destroyed but it wasn’t clear if any were homes. About 130 structures were threatened.

The fire was burning in tall grass and timber about 250 miles north of Billings. The cause hasn’t been listed.

Montana has suffered through a prolonged and severe drought.

Conditions in the northeast corner of the state are rated as an exceptional drought, the worst of five categories defined by the federal government’s U.S. Drought Monitor. Virtually the entire state was listed in some stage of drought.

Dozens of active big fires had burned across more than 850 square miles by Saturday.

A lightning-caused fire in Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana has burned across 7 square miles.

A century-old backcountry inn called the Sperry Chalet burned down Thursday in the midst of the wildfire. The cause of the chalet fire wasn’t immediately known. Firefighters said the flames appeared to come from within the building.


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