Montana wildfires burn homes, cause injuries

August 30, 2012 - 1:36 PM

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Rapidly-expanding wildfires across a broad swath of southern Montana have caused injuries and burned more homes, buildings and vehicles, authorities said Thursday, as firefighters struggled to contain the flames amid hazardous conditions.

The precise toll of the latest spate of fires to hit the state remained uncertain. But there were well over 150 homes still threatened by blazes that in some cases burned unchecked.

High temperatures and erratic winds were forecast to make the fight more difficult. And with at least nine large fires burning in Montana, officials said there was increasing competition for adequate resources.

South of Livingston, the Pine Creek fire that ignited Wednesday resulted in minor injuries to firefighters and members of the public, the Park County sheriff's office said.

An evacuation was in place for the small town of Pine Creek and surrounding areas. The fire burned multiple houses and buildings there but spared the main building of the well-known Pine Creek Lodge and Cafe, a church and the one-room Pine Creek School, said Karen Tuscano with the Forest Service.

The size of the fire was reported Wednesday night at about 4 square miles, just hours after it started on private land along the Yellowstone River due to an undetermined cause. After burning through Pine Creek it moved up into the Gallatin National Forest and has at least doubled in size.

She said multiple houses and buildings were threatened but a precise number was not available.

"We do have engines that will be working the burned area to hold on to what we have," Tuscano said. "I don't know what we're going to have for resources quite yet ... Everybody's competing for resources around here. We hope for everything but take what we can get."

A resident who failed to heed an evacuation on a fire south of Butte was taken away by ambulance after suffering second degree burns to his hands and arms, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Mariah Leuschen. That blaze, the 19 Mile Fire, has burned more than 4 square miles and at least nine structures including two houses.

An estimated 100 houses were threatened by the fire. Residents were being allowed back in with escorts Thursday to check on the condition of their property.

To the east, evacuations remained in effect for an estimated 20 residences and summer houses burning on the northeast front of the Beartooth Mountains near the town of Roscoe. The Rosebud Fire was reported at 20 percent contained Thursday morning.

South of Bozeman, officials said six houses and 20 commercial buildings and outbuildings were threatened by the Millie Fire, which exploded from less than 1 square mile to more than 15 square miles from Wednesday to Thursday. The fire was uncontained Thursday.

Evacuations were lifted for the 63-square-mile Delphia Fire burning south of Musselshell near Roundup. Crews reported the fire was 90 percent contained Thursday and personnel were being shipped off to other fires, said Delphia Fire spokesman Wayne Wynick.

"Most of them are not going very far," he added.