USA — Firefighting crews in Montana battled the four top priority wildfires in the West on Wednesday, blazes that have led to the evacuation of hundreds of people.
In a normal year, Wednesday would have been the beginning of the summer fire season in Montana, but drought has put most of the state two to three weeks ahead of schedule and more hot, dry weather is forecast.
“It’s going to be a long season,” said Warren Bielenberg, fire information officer for the Lewis and Clark National Forest in northwest Montana.
Large wildfires also were active in California, Idaho, Michigan, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, the National Interagency Fire Center reported.
The No. 1 priority for firefighters Wednesday in the West was a blaze in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness north of Helena that had blackened 31,238 acres, or about 49 square miles.
Residents of 60 homes southeast of Wolf Creek were evacuated Tuesday, adding to residents of at least 60 other homes that were evacuated earlier.
The fire was moving north toward Holter Lake, a popular recreation area, and through a wildlife management area. It was about 25% contained but was expanding Wednesday toward evacuated areas to the southeast, where hand crews, aircraft and bulldozers worked to build lines and keep it in the wilderness, said Cheryl Larsen, fire information officer. Ranchers began moving cattle out of the area as a precaution.
Other high-priority fires in western Montana were burning east of Clinton, where about 40 homes were evacuated; along the southern edge of Glacier National Park, where residents of several homes and a lodge were urged to leave; and west of Augusta, where 27 homes were evacuated and ranchers moved cattle to safer pastures. None of those fires was more than 10% contained.
Elsewhere, California’s biggest fire had charred 58 square miles in Santa Barbara County. About 15 cabins and recreational homes had been evacuated, and residents of a half-dozen communities near the Santa Ynez River north of Santa Barbara were warned to stay alert.
The Santa Barbara fire was 60% contained.
In Idaho, thousands of firefighters battled more than a dozen wildfires on Wednesday, including a group of fires in the Boise National Forest north of the state capital where five firefighters were hurt when their vehicle rolled over into a steep ravine. Their injuries were not life-threatening, and only one remained hospitalized for observation, officials said.
Hot and dry conditions persisted, with temperatures reaching nearly 100 degrees across the state.
An 81-square-mile fire about 200 miles north of Boise was threatening as many as 100 buildings but has been allowed to advance into wilderness areas, away from homes. The blaze is 60% contained but isn’t expected to be extinguished before autumn rain and snow.
Another 46-square-mile fire burning in the Payette National Forest threatens some communities, historic sites, bridges, campgrounds and structures, fire managers said. The complex was about 20% contained, but higher temperatures are expected to escalate burning.