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Forecasts may make fire situation worse

BILLINGS (AP) — Fire crews reported progress as they dug in against a wildfire threatening rural houses east of Roundup on Monday. But forecasters warned of windy conditions during the next several days that could fan blazes across the state.

The lightning-caused Delphia fire was 60 percent contained after growing to almost 55 square miles, said spokesman Pat Mckelvey with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

It was burning in timber and sage brush between Roundup and Musselshell. About 15 to 20 outbuildings have been destroyed by the fire, but no houses.

Increasing winds Tuesday and Wednesday were expected to push the Delphia Fire to the east, where Mckelvey said crews were working to bolster hastily-dug fire lines.

Residents from a broad area around the fire have been advised to evacuate, but most were back in their houses preparing to defend them if it becomes needed, Mckelvey said. NorthWestern Energy restored power to the last of several hundred customers affected by a transmission line that burned in the fire, said company spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch.

The National Weather Service said the hot, dry weather that set in Monday will last several days. Temperatures were expected to hit near-record levels and winds of up to 45 miles per hour are expected ahead of the arrival of a cold front on Wednesday.

Dry thunderstorms that could spark new fires also were in the forecast.

In western Montana, the 2-1/2-square-mile Condon Mountain Fire near Condon was reported at 50 percent contained. Fire officials said they would be patrolling the blaze this week, watching for any signs of the flames spreading with the wind.

Few changes were reported Monday on other fires.

So far this year, fires have burned just shy of 1,300 square miles in Montana. Most of the large blazes were caused by lightning.

Even those areas that have been spared direct damage are feeling the effects.

A thin haze of smoke has blanketed large areas of eastern Montana for the last several days, and fires in neighboring Idaho have sent smoke pouring into western Montana.


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