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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Crews get weather help on Montana wildfires

Associated Press

Firefighters fought more mud Monday than flames as rain and cooler weather helped quell the Big Horn fire on the Crow Indian Reservation about 25 miles southwest of Lodge Grass.

A dangerous fire, however, broke out near Plains, and firefighters were pressed to protect houses and businesses through the night.

Officials said the Big Horn fire was considered 95 percent contained late Monday and responsibility would be turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Crow Tribe today.

The fire burned an estimated 5,800 acres and has cost $940,000 to suppress, said Pat McKelvey, fire information officer.

About 160 people remained on the lines Monday, but their biggest battle was against mud after heavy rainfall over the region, McKelvey said.

The fire erupted this past week from a lightning strike and was almost fully contained until a weekend thunderstorm pushed it across about 400 more acres.

In western Montana, fire danger worsened and a grass fire burned over an estimated 1,000 acres Monday near the Clark Fork River valley community of Plains, shifting toward the town by nightfall.

Dispatchers at the Montana Department of Natural Resources said the fire began along Montana Highway 28 southeast of town and moved toward Deemer Peak, forcing some evacuations as the fire raced past. Then the winds shifted and pushed flames toward the community as 10 aircraft were called in to drop water and retardant.

State officials also announced that heightened fire restrictions would become effective in western Montana during the pre-dawn hours of Friday.

Campfires will be allowed only in developed recreation sites or campgrounds and only in the metal or concrete fire rings provided at those sites, officials said.

In north-central Montana, the Knox fire, burning in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument and on some private lands, was estimated at around 1,800 acres, fire information officer Marilyn Krause said. Nearly 170 firefighters were assigned to the fire and expected help in gaining the upper hand by cooler, overcast conditions, she said.

The nearly 930-acre McArthur fire, which had burned on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, was contained and being patrolled as an “insurance policy,” she said.

Meanwhile, in southwestern Montana, the Berry Meadows fire, burning in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, was estimated at nearly 500 acres and 65 percent containment, said Jack de Golia, a fire information officer for the Dillon Dispatch Center.

One wildfire in south-central Washington remained at about 4,600 acres and was 50 percent contained Monday evening while a new wildfire covered about 3,000 acres, authorities said.

One fire was burning in steep terrain about four miles north of Roosevelt near Washington 14. A Washington state fire crew was taking over Monday evening, said Trooper Greg Pressel of the Washington State Patrol.

More than 225 firefighters were assigned to the fire.

A new fire was reported Monday afternoon in Benton County. Initially reported at about 200 acres at 2 p.m., it had covered 3,000 acres by 6 p.m., Pressel said.

About 100 firefighters were assigned to that fire, as well as two aircraft. The cause was not yet known.

No structures were threatened and no homes were evacuated at either fire. No injuries have been reported.

The fire near Roosevelt apparently was caused by a combine harvesting wheat, investigators said. Temperatures in the 90s and winds gusting to 20 mph helped stoke the blaze.

It’s not uncommon to see fires in this area, Pressel said. Firefighters have been called in every year from 1994 to 2001, he said.

The National Weather Service has issued a fire weather watch for Wednesday through Thursday evening for Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Grant, Klickitat and Walla Walla counties.

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