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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Wind fans Montana wildfire to 6,000 acres

Associated Press

Wind helped a northwestern Montana wildfire expand to about 6,000 acres as crews labored to protect homes and a power line that serves a microwave tower.

The latest estimate of the Seepay 2 fire’s size reflects both growth of the blaze and some clearing of smoke that hindered earlier measurement, information officer Wayne Johnson said Wednesday. On Tuesday, the fire east of Plains was estimated at 3,300 acres.

Montana 200 was open to traffic Wednesday after smoke a day before limited visibility and closed the highway intermittently.

The fire is about 15 miles east of Plains, on the edge of the Flathead Indian Reservation.

Johnson said there had been no evacuations, but “pre-evacuation notices” were issued and “some folks chose to leave and some chose to stay.” The fire threatened five homes, he said.

It burned entirely out of control Wednesday. No rain was in the weather forecast and firefighters braced for more wind after gusts to 30 mph the night before.

Human activity is believed to have started the fire, and an investigation is ongoing, Johnson said. The blaze, reported Sunday, was burning trees, brush and grass.

Besides protecting homes and the microwave tower’s power line, the crews are trying to keep the fire out of an area with a large volume of dead lodgepole pine trees, Johnson said.

The communications tower was taken off the power grid and was operating on a portable generator.

Nearly 240 people were assigned to the blaze.

To the south, the 7,600-acre Signal Rock fire in wilderness areas of the Bitterroot and Beaverhead-Deerlodge national forests was kicking up late Wednesday and forest officials closed the entire area around the fire to public access.

“Safety is a major concern on the Signal Rock fire and in the adjacent areas because of the intense and unpredictable nature of the fire …,” officials said in a statement.

The fire was estimated at just 10 percent contained, and firefighters were having difficulty reaching hot spots because of the difficult terrain.

The Copper Creek fire also was burning on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest. It was estimated at 70 acres after three smaller fires burned together, officials said. Some trail closures were reported.

Winds Wednesday kicked up the 4,800-acre Rockin fire but the activity was mostly in the wilderness area. The month-old fire is considered just 60 percent contained, officials said.

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