LOLO (AP) — Fire crews took advantage of rain and cooler conditions Friday to work on a barrier meant to prevent a pair of wildfires from moving east toward houses and heavy timber outside the town of Lolo.
The weather Thursday and early Friday allowed firefighters to make progress in corralling the Lolo Creek Complex of fires, which was 30 percent contained Friday morning and holding at about 9,500 acres, or nearly 15 square miles.
Crews building fire lines with bulldozers and shovels were working to connect the lines to keep the fire from moving closer to Sleeman Gulch and homes to the east outside the southwestern Montana town, fire information officer Ted Pettis said.
The edge of the fire was about 1 ½ miles from the gulch and hasn't moved much closer thanks to the favorable weather, he said.
"The wind is blowing fire right back on itself," he said. "There is the potential for thunderstorms, but it's pretty quiet at this point."
Home protection was a top priority, with firefighters raking pine needles and removing brush from around homes, the Missoulian reported. An estimated 1,200 homes were threatened.
Montana State Forester Bob Harrington said home protection was the top priority in fighting the fire in the wildland-urban interface.
"When you have an interface fire, the priority of the incident management team — of everyone really — is to protect the highest value at-risk resources, and in a lot of cases — in this case — it's people's homes," Harrington told the newspaper.
Some firefighting teams stood ready in case burning debris from the hillsides rolled too near one of the homes below. Others doused hot spots along U.S. Highway 12, which remained closed to Lolo Pass.
Mop-up teams dug at tree roots and sprayed down smoldering logs.
South of Red Lodge, the Rock Creek Fire near U.S. Highway 212 has seen slow growth over two days, but it was still threatening an estimated 127 structures, fire officials said.
The fire was 10 percent contained and had burned 900 acres by Friday morning. All evacuation orders have been lifted and traffic was being allowed to pass at 35 mph through the fire zone.
Other large wildfires in the state include the four-fire Miner Paradise Complex south of Livingston, which has burned nearly 18 square miles combined and was 5 percent contained.
About 50 large fires are burning nationwide.