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Montana fires flare up in many areas


HELENA - Hit by bellows of wind and 90-degree temperatures, some of Montana's major wildfires are moving again, chasing firefighters off the lines and promising more extreme fire activity in a wildfire season already two months long.

Officials reported flare-ups late Tuesday west of Missoula, near Lincoln, in Glacier National Park and in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

A 30-mile stretch of the popular Middle Fork of the Flathead River was closed to floaters this morning because of fire concerns.

Also, a major highway leading from Bozeman to West Yellowstone remained closed this morning after the Rathbone fire jumped U.S. 191. Fire managers were hurriedly sending crews to the blaze.

Forecasts called for more hot temperatures, wind and little to no rain through the week, although some areas of western Montana were overcast and cool Wednesday morning.

The Little Salmon complex, burning in the Bob Marshall, grew an estimated 4,000 acres Tuesday.

In Glacier, the almost 46,000-acre Robert blaze shot columns of smoke into the sky in the afternoon as it made runs to the north into the backcountry of the park.

''It's going into the park, so as long as we can keep it from the McDonald Lake area, we're sitting pretty good,'' said Jodie Kramer, fire information officer.

Last month, the blaze threatened West Glacier and was twice responsible for shutting down a large portion of the western part of Glacier.

And the month-old, 46,126-acre Wedge Canyon fire to the north of West Glacier also made another run.

''We had plumes in every direction,'' Kramer said. ''It's moving.''

Other fires burning in Glacier National Park could be seen by travelers on Highway 2. The Rampage complex of fires mushroomed from a couple hundred acres to about 1,000 acres Tuesday.

Southwest of that fire, crews successfully completed some crucial burnouts for protecting the towns of Hungry Horse and Martin City from the encroaching 1,100-acre Beta Lake-Doris Ridge fires.

For that, the wind and low humidity were perfect, officials said.

''The (weather) activity is really just what we have ordered,'' said information officer Bob Miller.

Firefighters used fire balls dropped from aircraft to pull the fire away from structures near the Hungry Horse dam and the two small towns.

''We're hoping those hold real well today. The burnouts yesterday were real successful,'' Kramer said.

Near Lincoln, light rain fell early today, giving firefighters a chance to recover from a 1,000-acre run that the Snow-Talon fire made Tuesday. That fire, one of two burning near the mountain town of 1,100, is now estimated at 33,500 acres.

''I think it will definitely provide a window of opportunity for crews to get in there and go direct with the lines,'' said Sadie Campbell, fire information officer.

A handful of families were forced out of their homes a second time as the Snow-Talon fire crept toward the Continental Divide, which it breached during the night in an area of rock slides and cliffs.''They are holding it on west side of Divide,'' Campbell said. ''They're going to construct direct line and mop up all the spots in that area.''

The Moose-Wasson fire, burning southwest of Lincoln and once considered a serious threat to the town, was expected to be contained late today after growing to almost 2,000 acres.

Near Missoula, about 500 Army troops finished basic fire training and hit the lines with firefighters today.

''Were happy to have them here and it will be a lot of help for our folks,'' said Julena Campbell, a fire information officer with the Northern Rockies Interagency Information Center in Missoula.

On the Black Mountain 2 fire, nine miles west of Missoula, containment dropped from 75 percent to 70 percent, as fire jumped outside lines and chased crews off the fire. Winds over 20 mph pushed the fire another 200 acres, to more than 7,000 acres. It earlier destroyed three houses during a wind storm.

The 31,000-acre Fish Creek complex 35 miles west of Missoula is just 22 percent contained and still threatens about 195 homes, fire managers said, but it was relatively quiet Tuesday.

Fire managers in Missoula were waiting for a light drizzle to give way to more dangerous fire conditions.

''By midday the winds are supposed to kick up,'' Julena Campbell said this morning. ''I think the winds are going to be more of a story again.''

Fire managers said the fire season may last well beyond the end of September.

''The last several years it has trickled on indefinitely,'' said Linda Slater, a fire information officer for the Northern Rockies Interagency Information Center in Missoula. ''The hope is that it will end in September. But that has not been the trend the last several years with the ongoing drought situation.''

On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov


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