Crews Gaining Ground on Blackfeet Reservation Wildfires in Montana

January 6, 2012

A pair of wildfires fueled by strong wind gusts that burned buildings and forced the evacuation of hundreds on Montana’s Blackfeet Indian Reservation were helped by milder weather conditions on Thursday as firefighters got a better handle on the blazes, the Huffington Post is reporting.

The fires started on Wednesday, and grew to 16,000 acres by early Thursday. At least 300 people were forced to leave their homes and a school.

One fire started southeast of Browning around sunset and burned about eight miles east to the community of Blackfoot, tribal spokesman Wayne Smith said. Another blaze erupted around the same time about 10 miles away.

Blackfeet Law Enforcement Chief Greg Gilham told the Great Falls Tribune that the fires were started by what was believed to be power lines that were blown over by high winds. One fire that burned east of Browning had already been put out.

The fires were being pushed eastward by winds of 30-40 mph.  National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Zelzer in Great Falls said a 61 mph wind gust was recorded in Cut Bank just before 6 p.m. Wednesday, and a 72 mph gust was recorded in Heart Butte south of Browning a few minutes later.

Crews were helped by the weather on Thursday, as the wind died down to below 15 mph and humidity rose.

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