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Fires grow as wind, heat hit Montana

Associated Press

Winds up to 55 mph fanned several existing fires and brought others to life Monday in Western Montana with record temperatures reaching triple digits, officials said.

Late Monday, officials closed the Skalkaho Pass road as the Signal Rock fire in a wilderness area roared to life and dense smoke limited visibility, said Jack de Golia, of the Dillon Interagency Dispatch Center.

The fire is in a remote area of the Bitterroot and Beaverhead national forests and grew so dramatically the smoke kept officials from accurately mapping it, said Ted Pettis, an information officer. He said the fire may have doubled in size, possibly to 5,000 acres.

A fire burning southwest of the Flathead Reservation doubled in size Monday, to about 3,000 acres, officials said.

The Seepay 2 fire is burning north and east along the Flathead River and Montana Highway 200, much of it in heavy timber valuable to the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes, said Germaine White, information officer.

Several houses in nearby Perma were close to the fire but not immediately threatened, White said.

Officials said 250 firefighters would be on the lines by today, with 150 more expected later.

The increasing fire activity was noted at a time when Havre in north-central Montana recorded a record high of 102. A record 99 was reported at Helena, and a record 97 at Great Falls. Temperatures were expected to drop dramatically over much of the state with an advancing cold front today, forecasters said.

Officials said a passing train may have sparked a grass-brush fire south of Helena near a school at Montana City. It burned over 100 acres before about 80 firefighters and water-dropping aircraft could control it, stiff winds blowing all the time.

Oregon

Mop-up continued Monday on the Deer Creek fire as cool weather helped diminish the intensity of the blaze, which destroyed five homes and burned through some 1,600 acres of federal and private timberland.

Containment lines were dug around the entire perimeter of the fire, which started Thursday, but it was considered only 60 percent contained, and work concentrated on mopping up stumps smoldering underground and other lingering hot spots, said Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Chris Friend.

The number of firefighters was 1,450, but some were to be released starting today, when rehabilitation work to reduce erosion and damage caused by fighting the fire is to begin, Friend said.

In central Oregon, the neighborhood directly south of La Pine State Park was evacuated Saturday when a wildfire began in the park, creeping within 400 feet of homes by nightfall, according to Bob Young with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Evacuees were allowed back to their homes and park visitors were allowed to pick up their belongings Sunday night. The fire was 90 percent contained at 143 acres as of Monday, said Christ Donham, spokeswoman for the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center.

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