Fire crews on the Pine Ridge fires near here took advantage of cooler overnight temperatures Sunday to get more additional line around the blazes, and a Forest Service official was optimistic today that crews were gaining the upper hand. The three blazes, estimated at about 114,000 acres this morning, were considered 60 percent contained and fire managers were expected to replace the elite fire management team as early as Wednesday, said Dixie Dies, a Forest Service fire information officer. “We’re doing really well out there,” she said Monday morning. “All of our lines held yesterday for the fires and our containment is up.” With daytime temperatures in the mid 90s and strong winds ever-present, authorities dramatically increased nighttime firefighting operations, which Dies said helped crews gain on the fires. “They did what we do well paid attention to the weather and paid attention to the fire activity and just worked hard to make sure the line was enforce,” she said. In all, five major fires were burning today in southern and eastern Montana. Collectively, they had burned more than 200,000 acres the equivalent of over 300 square miles, as of today
Temperatures Sunday were in the mid- to upper 90s in south-central and eastern Montana. Very dry grasses easily set ablaze by the dry lightning that has plagued the area for the past few days made for an “extremely volatile situation,” said fire behavior analyst Ed Lieser. He added that daytime humidities have been averaging 10 to 12 percent, while the humidity at night has hovered around 26 to 30 percent. Late Sunday evening, authorities closed the eastbound lanes of Interstate 94 so crews could set a small backfire near the roadway. “We had a lot of equipment and personnel along the roadway and (closed the lanes) as a precaution,” Dies said. The lanes were reopened around midnight. Elsewhere, specially trained “hot shot” crews were deployed on the Watt Draw fire, which as of Sunday had burned about 8,000 acres on the Custer National Forest and on private land southeast of Ashland. Dozers and single-engine air tankers have been used to slow the growth of the fire, said Marilyn Krause of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The fast-moving Bundy Railroad fire, northeast of Worden, prompted fire managers to pull fire crews off the lines Sunday and put them to work protecting a handful of ranch homes in the area. Despite continued fire activity from the nearby Bundy Railroad fire, Pompeys Pillar remains open to the public and plans for the Lewis and Clark Signature Event this coming weekend remain unchanged, organizers said.