Some Montanans evacuated by fires near Darby and north of Plains were allowed to return home Saturday, while new blazes south of Livingston and south of Miles City sent fire crews scrambling.
West of Darby, the Tin Cup fire had burned just over 600 acres and was 80 percent contained Saturday.
Evacuation orders in effect for about 40 homes were downgraded to “standby” status at 6 a.m. Saturday, fire officials said. Residents were allowed to return home, but were told to be prepared to leave again on short notice.
The same warning was given to residents north of Lone Pine to Niarada that had been evacuated by the Chippy Creek fire north of Plains. They were allowed to return home at 6 p.m. Saturday. However, residents of a subdivision near Hubbart Reservoir were asked to stay away.
The Chippy Creek fire has burned an estimated 59,000 acres — or 92 square miles — and was 15 percent contained.
About 27 miles south of Livingston, the Wicked Creek fire had burned about 500 acres on the border between the Gallatin National Forest and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. A half dozen cabins were evacuated in Passage Falls, a private in-holding. People were also asked to stay away from another private residence and the Templed Hills Church Camp, said fire information officer Marna Daley.
The Forest Service closed the Mill Creek Road from above the Snowbank Campground to the end of the drainage.
Two fires discovered Friday merged to create the Wicked Creek fire.
“We’re expecting to see increased fire behavior tomorrow,” Daley said. “The weather forecast is for hot and dry conditions, windy conditions, with low relative humidity.”
In eastern Montana, a dry lightning storm Friday afternoon sparked numerous fires, including one that had burned through 16,000 acres by Saturday afternoon.
“We had all the fires caught (Friday). Everything was going really good, and then we had a wind storm with gusts between 30 to 50 mph,” said Dena Lang, with the Miles City Interagency Dispatch center. “Basically that’s why they all got so big.”
The Okerman fire, 18 miles southwest of Miles City, expanded to about 16,000 acres, burning in grass and some timber. Crews were able to save two structures in the path of the fire.
“Fire burned all around them,” Lang said.
The Wolf Creek fire, about 15 miles south of Miles City, has burned about 8,000 acres in grass, timber and some cropland near the Tongue River.
The Jocko Lakes fire near Seeley Lake remained at 19,330 acres and was 10 percent contained Saturday, said fire information officer Tom Kempton.
“The fire has gotten more active (on the northeast side) this afternoon,” Kempton said Saturday.
U.S. 83 remains closed to all but fire crews and local residents. The state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks closed Seeley and Placid lakes to recreation Friday afternoon for public safety because firefighting aircraft are dipping water out of the lakes to fight the fire.
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